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Wouter Swets collection

Identifier: ubl661

Scope and Contents

The Wouter Swets collection of non-Western music comprises a core of private recordings on magnetic tape or audio cassette, made during his travels in the Balkans and Turkey. The collection furthermore contains many LP's, singles and CD's, commercially produced in the same areas.

As a reviewer for Luister magazine for more than thirty years, he received a large number of copies of musical recordings of folk or non-Western music from all over the world, from Canada to Japan. Only a fraction of these were actually reviewed.

The collection also includes c. 460 books, mostly on Turkish folk and classical modal music. The archive contains his scholarly notes, for the greater part kept in ring binders without any apparent systematic order. In addition, there are many scores in manuscript and photocopies of printed music. Wouter Swets's correspondence has not been preserved.


  • Creation: Bulk 1950-2000


Language of Materials

Multiple languages .

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations applying to the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

Wouter Swets was born in The Hague in 1930 as the only son of a retired planter from the Netherlands East Indies. Though destined to become a lawyer, he opted for the study of musicology at the University of Utrecht. In the 1950s, when the term 'World Music' did not yet exist, he started travelling in the Balkans in search of authentic musical practices, which were already in peril under the influence of Western music. The recovery of this authenticity would define his mission in life. He subsequently started exploring classical Ottoman court music, and finally turned his attention to the modal tradition of Central Asia. He had a perfect ear for the subtle microtonality and modality of Oriental music, which greatly helped him in his research. Though eager to share his knowledge with anyone who cared to listen to him, he was nevertheless a demanding teacher. With his shock of white hair, thick glasses and somewhat shrill voice he could be an intimidating appearance.

To Wouter Swets musical theory and practice were two sides of the same coin, and in the course of his career he directed two musical ensembles: ńĆalgija (1969-1995) and Al Farabi (from 1996). More often than not, his concerts took the shape of master classes or mini tutorials. On two occasions, in 1962 and 1981, he gave a series of lectures on KRO, a public Dutch radio channel. For more than thirty years, from 1972 until 2003, he reviewed newly published recordings of folk music and non-Western art music for the popular magazine Luister ('Listen'). Wouter Swets was financially independent and never held office or any other paid position, which allowed him to follow the passion of his life. He died in The Hague in 2016.


4000 (circa) gramophone records and audio cd's

800 (circa) audio cassettes

460 (circa) books

15 (circa) musical instruments

2 metres (circa) magnetic tapes

2 metres periodicals

6 metres (circa) archival materials

Abstract in Dutch

De etnomusicologische collectie van Wouter Swets (1930-2016) bestaat uit muziekopnamen, boeken, tijdschriften, muziekinstrumenten en archivalia.

Abstract in English

The ethnomusicological collection of Wouter Swets (1930-2016) consists of musical recordings, books, periodicals, musical instruments and archival materials.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Part of the audio collection is unavailable due to technical restrictions.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued print and audio materials can be retrieved from the online catalogue by applying the filter 'Location data' and using the search term 'Swets'.

The archive will become available upon the completion of the inventory, for which no fixed date has yet been set.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Already before his death, Wouter Swets had expressed the desire that his extensive collection be donated to Leiden University. In August 2016 an agreement was signed between the University and Mr Roland van Abel, the executor of his will. Apart from the donation of the collection as such, additional funds were generously made available for the cataloguing of the collection and the creation of a Wouter Swets fellowship in the Scaliger Institute at Leiden University Libraries.


No future additions are to be expected.


Processing Information

Ever since its acquisition in 2016, concerted efforts have been undertaken to catalogue the collection, aided by a generous donation from the estate of Wouter Swets. This has led to the creation of more than 5000 bibliographic records in the online catalogue by the end of 2019. In 2018-19 the musicologist Emine Bostanci received a Wouter Swets fellowship to describe the contents of the c. 750 audio cassettes.

In 2020 Roel Sluis, a former member of Wouter Swets's musical ensembles, received a Wouter Swets fellowship to prepare an inventory of the private papers and notes. In 2020 internal financial resources of Leiden University Libraries were made available to catalogue the remainder of the collection.

Collection guide of the Wouter Swets collection (1950-2000)
Collectie Wouter Swets
Arnoud Vrolijk
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is written in: English, Code for undetermined script script.

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857