About the album
“Mare Liberum”, by The Hague composer Roel van Oosten, was commissioned by the Haags Toonkunstkoor and premiered in 2009 to
commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the treatise of the same name by Hugo Grotius, in 1609. Grotius’ Mare Liberum (The Free Sea) contains important initial principles of international law.
In his treatise Grotius formulated the principle that the sea is international territory and all nations should be free to use it for seafaring trade. He considered it inconceivable that nations could possess the sea, as they possess land. On balance the message of Hugo Grotius is that the sea is common to all, because being (almost) limitless, like the air, it cannot become a possession of any nation. It remains a relevant thought today since, over past decades, it has led to agreements laid down in treaties about Antarctica, the Moon and Space, which, like the sea, are a res communis (an international public good).
Hugo Grotius, born in 1583, was an intellectual prodigy. At the age of 15 he was permitted to accompany a mission from the Netherlands to the King of France and he later became a renowned jurist and philosopher on the subjects of war and peace, as well as the sea. He also wrote about religious matters, choosing, in connection with the latter, to align himself with the thinking of the liberal theologist Arminius. As a consequence of this alignment he was sentenced to life in prison, however, in 1621, he escaped hidden inside his book chest and fled to Paris. There, in 1625, he wrote his best-known book “De Jure Belli ac Pacis” (On the Law of
War and Peace) which is regarded as a foundational work of international law. In 1645, returning from Stockholm following a visit to Queen Christina of Sweden, he was shipwrecked and was washed ashore near Rostock, Germany, where he died several weeks later.
The Music Hugo Grotius most likely had no thoughts of music while writing his juridical texts and it is a major challenge for a composer
to set this sort of work to music. The sacred character of the texts (being in Latin, at that time the universal juridical language) demands music that does justice to the objectivity and abstract nature of the words. Roel van Oosten opted for a “sound picture” that, as a rule, is extremely regular and rhythmic, and sometimes reminiscent of minimalist music techniques, if somewhat freely applied. He faithfully follows the cadence of the text in the oratorio. The abstract question of a free sea is translated into the fundamental
questions about war and peace, something that is extremely relevant even today.