Street performers as they appear in the painting by Johan van Hell can now only rarely be heard on markets and squares. Yet this was a familiar street scene for centuries. Street singers performed a wide variety of songs, from songs of murder and disaster to patriotic classics, and from sentimental successes to biting parodies. Popular songs appeared in printed broadsides and small leaflets that were sold on the streets.
During the 1920s and 1930s, two substantial collections of broadside ballads were formed, which are now maintained by the National Library of the Netherlands and the Meertens Institute. In 2002, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science subsidised a collaborative project to digitise this collection of folk songs and broadside ballads. The website offers access to over 7000 broadsides and leaflets containing nearly 15,000 songs.
The most popular melodies can be listened to on this site with their original lyrics, sung by a host of contemporary singers (including Freek de Jonge, Nico van de Meel, Maarten van Roozendaal, Mieke Stemerdink and others).