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200 Years of Groningen's Relief: A Celebration in Songs

by Hannah Heath

The celebration of the Relief of Groningen, or ‘Bombing Bernard’, is an old Groningen tradition. In the year 2022, we are celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Relief of Groningen, a jubilee that calls for a special celebration. Extensive festivities for special jubilees are, however, not new. The same thing happened in the year 1872, for instance, when Groningen celebrated the second centenary of the Relief. The city council organized no less than four days of festivities, with popular games and religious ceremonies, but above all with music and singing. A good impression of the 1872 celebration can be gathered from a collection of songs published in that year, De belegering en verlossing van Groningen in 1672 feestelijk herdacht (‘The festive commemoration of the siege and redemption of Groningen in 1672’), a volume that can also be viewed in the University of Groningen Library .

A short introduction tells the story of the courageous Groningen citizens, protecting their city at all costs against the foreign attack. It is a festive story that matches the celebration of the second centenary of the Relief. The introduction concludes with a quote by B.H. Lulofs , Professor of Dutch in Groningen from 1815 to 1849. His words reflect a longing to continue to remember the relief of 1672 for a long time to come: ‘Dus blijft Gij eeuwiglijk in onze zangen leven, o jaar!’ (‘Thus you remain forever alive in our songs, oh year!’). And the celebration of the relief certainly does remain alive in the songs of this collection. The texts celebrate freedom, victory, and the courage of big names from Dutch history. Two of the six songs celebrate the Relief of Groningen: Gronings Ontzet and Den 28 augustus. In addition to these two songs that specifically refer to and acclaim the highlights of the relief, the book includes another four festive songs. The Feestliedje is a cheerful little song intended for all occasions. The song Vrij en Blij is a celebration of a free Netherlands and of patriotism, although it makes no reference to specific historical events.

Two of these songs do have a historical theme and recount events from Dutch history. Aan Neêrlands Zeehelden is a tribute to the ‘dapp’re zonen van de zee’ (‘brave sons of the sea’) and describes Van Speijk sacrificing himself in 1831 during the Belgian Revolution to prevent his ship from falling into Belgian hands. Or, as the song recounts: ‘Liever aan de dood gewijd, dan en vlag en eer verloren, en de roem van Holland kwijt’ (‘Rather be consigned to death, than to lose flag and honour, and the glory of Holland’). Finally, the Wilhelmuslied praises the Dutch struggle under William of Orange against the Spanish oppression during the Eighty Years’ War. The songs reflect themes intended to help 19th-century Dutch citizens become a more virtuous people: patriotism, the courage of great men, and love of freedom. They had an important educational goal, and were intended to teach Dutch children something about their country’s history. For example, the author of the Wilhelmuslied wrote his song quite specifically for children: he used well-known melodies and a child-like tone. Children were supposed to learn how important Groningen had been during this historical period. For example, Gronings Ontzet contains the following lines: ‘Ons Groningen hield toen de wacht voor ’t heele Vaderland’ (‘Our Groningen guarded the entire Fatherland in those days’). The song bundle places the relief in a broader context of Dutch freedom: the defeat of Bommen Berend during the dark ‘Disaster Year’ of 1672 represented a ray of hope for the entire country.

One-hundred-and-fifty years after the second centenary of Groningen's Relief, we are once again celebrating the jubilee in style. And in this celebration too, music will play an important role. Stichting GO350 , which is responsible for the festivities, is organizing a number of musical and educational activities adapted to our contemporary expectations of a historical folk festival. Just as 150 years ago, the jubilee of the Relief has an important educational task: to teach history and the appreciation of freedom. And although we no longer sing the songs from De belegering en verlossing van Groningen in 1672 feestelijk herdacht at our large folk festivals, we will clearly continue to celebrate the jubilees of the Relief in style.

Last modified:17 August 2022 5.53 p.m.
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