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Jaap Kunst

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Subject: Society for Ethnomusicology, Gamelan, Javanese poetry, Pesindhèn, Ton de Leeuw
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Jaap Kunst

Jaap (or Jakob) Kunst (12 August 1891 in Groningen – 7 December 1960 in Amsterdam) was a Dutch ethnomusicologist, particularly associated with the study of gamelan music of Indonesia. He is known for coining the word "ethno-musicology" (which later became ethnomusicology) as a more accurate alternative to the then-preferred term, "comparative musicology".


Kunst was the only child of two musicians, and began to study the violin at only 18 months old. Drawn toward the study of Dutch folk songs, he continued to play violin throughout his life. He earned a degree in law from the University of Groningen in 1917, and pursued a career in banking and law for the next two years. While touring with a string trio the Dutch East Indies, he decided to remain on Java, and found a government post in Bandung. Meanwhile, he became interested in the Indonesian music, especially that of Java.

He began an archive of musical instruments, field recordings, books, and photographs for the Batavia Museum (Batavia is the colonial name of Jakarta). In 1936 he returned to the Netherlands, and in that same year became the curator of the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, which developed into one of the most important institutes of its kind in Europe. Later, he gave lectures on Indonesian music at the University of Amsterdam in 1953 and became a member of the faculty there in 1958. In 1956, Kunst released a bestselling album of folksongs, on Folkways Records, entitled Living Folksongs and Dance-Tunes from the Netherlands.


  • with C. Kunst Van-Wely. De Toonkunst van Bali. (Weltevreden, 1924; part 2 in Tijdschrift voor Indische taal-, land-, en volkenkunde, LXV, Batavia, 1925)
  • with R. Goris. Hindoe-Javaansche muziekinstrumenten. (Batavia, 1927; 2nd ed., revised, Hindu-Javanese Musical Instruments, 1968)
  • A Study on Papuan Music (Weltevreden, 1931)
  • Musicologisch onderzoek 1931 (Batavia, 1931)
  • Over zeldzame fluiten en veelstemmige muziek in het Ngada- en Nagehgebied, West-Flores (Batavia, 1931)
  • De toonkunst van Java (The Hague, 1934; English translation, Music in Java, 1949; 3rd ed., expanded, 1973)
  • Een en ander over den Javaanschen gamelan (Amsterdam, 1940; 4th ed. 1945)
  • Music in Flores: A Study of the Vocal and Instrumental Music Among the Tribes Living in Flores (Leiden, 1942)
  • Music in Nias (Leiden, 1942)
  • Around von Hornbostel's Theory of the Cycle of Blown Fifths (Amsterdam, 1948)
  • The Cultural Background of Indonesian Music (Amsterdam, 1949)
  • Begdja, het gamelanjongetje (Amsterdam, 1950)
  • De inheemsche muziek in Westelijk Nieuw-Guinea (Amsterdam, 1950)
  • Metre, Rhythm, and Multi-part Music (Leiden, 1950)
  • Musicologica: A Study of the Nature of Ethnomusicology, Its Problems, Methods, and Representative Personalities (Amsterdam, 1950; 2nd ed., expanded, retitled Ethnomusicology, 1955; 3rd ed. 1959)
  • Kultur-historische Beziehungen zwischen dem Balkan und Indonesien (Amsterdam, 1953, English translation, 1954)
  • Sociologische bindingen in de muziek (The Hague, 1953)

Kunst also edited collections of folksongs from the Netherlands and New Guinea.

Jaap Kunst prize

The Society for Ethnomusicology offers a yearly prize named after Kunst for the most erudite published article in the field by a member of the society.

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