Dutch levenslied is believed to be a national off-shoot of the schläger musical genre, which was popularised throughout Germany and the Low Countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Schläger is considered one of the earliest forms of pop music, comprising of simple, sing-along melodies and lyrics that focus on love, nostalgia, feelings and emotions.
Levenslied, which has risen to become the national soundtrack of the Netherlands, is thought to have been introduced around 1908, and its creation is often associated with two musicians: Jean-Louis Pisuisse and Max Blokzijl. While Pisuisse and Blokzijl were undoubtedly inspired by schläger, borrowing many of its features, the music they performed and promoted was different, and more similar in some respects to French chanson – which has been popular across western Europe since medieval times.
In Dutch, levenslied literally translates as ‘song of life’, and that’s exactly the sort of feeling that traditional levenslied ballads try to capture. These are optimistic, uplifting songs about everyday life, particularly among the working classes, and are intended to capture a sense of hope, innocence and positivity.
While levenslied grew steadily in popularity in the early part of the 20th century, it wasn’t until after WWII that the genre really came into its own. Buoyed on by a renewed sense of national pride and hope for the future following the war, levenslied was the genre local people looked to for hope, joy and stimulation – particularly in the working-class enclaves of Amsterdam.