The Dutch flutist and composer, Jacob van Eyck [Eyk], was one of the most remarkable figures in Dutch musical life during the Golden Age. widely known as a carillonneur, leading expert in the field of bell casting and tuning, and admired as a recorder player. His virtuosic solo music from Der Fluyten Lust-hof is a challenge for recorder players all over the world.
Jacob van Eyck was probably born in the small garrison town of Heusden near 's-Hertogenbosch, nowadays in the province of Noord-Brabant but in his time belonging to Holland. Both his father, Goyart van Eyck, and mother, Heilwich Bax, were of noble birth. Jacob was one of five children. The precise date of his birth is unknown; in January 1628 he swore before a Utrecht notary that he was 'about thirty-eight years old'. The fact that he was born blind might explain why he lived with his mother (his father died in his early childhood) until 1625.
In Heusden Jacob van Eyck honed his skills as a carillonneur and became an expert in the field of bells. Heusden had only one carillon, in the tower of the town hall. In January 1622 van Eyck assumed responsibility for changing the pegs of the carillons mechanical drum and at times he played the instrument. Undoubtedly, the opportunities in Heusden were too limited to allow him to fully develop his talents. In 1623 he made his first trip to Utrecht, for improving the carillon of the 'Dom' tower, the highest church tower in the Netherlands. In the summer of 1624 he spent three months in Utrecht for the same reason. The blind carillonneur also proposed to improve the chimes of the Utrecht city hall and several parish churches. He expressed his willingness to stay. In March 1625, after hard negotiations, he was appointed carillonneur at the Dom. He collected six existing bells from other places in Utrecht to expand the carillon, which had only 12 bells. The bells needed to be retuned. 1626 he improved the city carillon of The Hague. In 1628 he entrusted with the technical supervision of the bells of all Utrecht parish churches and the town hall, thus gaining the title of 'Director of the bell-works' (Directeur van de klokwerken). His salary was raised to 500 guilders. The same year he binded himself to teach carillon student. In 1629-1630 he improved the chimes of the Jacobikerk (St James's Church).
In 1631 Jacob van Eyck asked for a keyboard with 30 small bells, for practicing at home and instructing his pupils. The same year his mother died, and he inherited estates in Brabant. In January 1632, he was appointed carillonneur of the Janskerk (St John's Church). He had to play every Sunday and Friday morning between 11 and 12 o'clock, and from May to the Dom's fair four times a week an hour in the evening, after supper. Iimmediately he started improving and expanding the carillon. In September 1633 he explained the secrets of bell tuning and casting to the Dutch scientist Isaac Beeckman, who described it in his journal. Van Eyck knew how to isolate five 'partials' in one bell, and he has discovered how the sound is influenced by the shape of the bell. In 1638 he inspected repairs to the organ of the St Joriskerk in Amersfoort. In August 1638, René Descartes, who lived in Utrecht for some years, wrote a letter to the French music theorist Marin Mersenne in which he described how van Eyck was able to isolate different partials without touching the bell: simply by means of whistling, making use of the resonance principle. In August 1639 Constantijn Huygens described the same in letters to Mersenne and the Dutch music theorist Joan Albert Ban. Van Eyck showed it to Huygens with a drinking-glass. In 1640 Regnerus Opperveldt published Ultrajectina Tempe, ofte S. Jans Kerck-Hoffs versch wandel-groen, an ode extolling the Janskerkhof (St John's Churchyard). It was the earliest account of van Eyck playing recorder in the park. In June 1640 he was hired to inspect the organ of the Jacobikerk. In July he was in 's-Hertogenbosch to judge candidates for the job of organist/carillonneur.
In 1642 Jacob van Eyck made repairs to the bells of the Nicolaikerk (St Nicholas's Church). In January he was in 's-Hertogenbosch a few days for tuning new bells that were cast by Jacob Notemans from Leeuwarden. In June he inspected s repairs to the organ of the Dom Church. During September-October 1642 he was in 's-Hertogenbosch again for the installation of the carillon. In October the city authorities decided to send their new organist Jan Baptist Verrijt to Utrecht to study with van Eyck. Verrijt also had to practice on the recorder. Der Fluyten Lust-hof contains variations on an 'Almande Verrijt'. In 1644 Paulus Matthysz published in Amsterdam Euterpe oft Speel-goddinne I, which is the first edition of what later became Der Fluyten Lust-hof I. Van Eyck sent a copy to the dedicatee, Constantijn Huygens, a distant relative of the blind master. As secretary to the Stadtholder, Huygens was one of the most influential people in the Dutch Republic. The same year he made improvements to the carillon of the city hall. In 1645 he was appointed carillonneur of the Jacobikerk and the city hall, his third and fourth post. He reset the 'voorslag' of the Nicolaikerk twice this year. The same year he traveled to Zutphen to inspect the new carillon of the Wijnhuistoren, together with the organist Lucas van Lenninck from Deventer. The carillon was made by the bell foundry of the two brothers François and Pieter Hemony. The Hemony's put van Eyck's expertise into immediate practice. In 1646 Paulus Matthysz published Der Fluyten Lust-hof II. The Hemony's entered into negotiations with the city of Deventer for a new carillon, undoubtedly on the instigation of Lucas van Lenninck. They offered a carillon which, according to van Eyck, was too light. In November 1646, the blind master wrote a letter to Van Lenninck in which he expresses his doubts. Late in 1647 he spent ten weeks in Deventer to inspect the new Hemony carillon.
In spring 1649 Paulus Matthysz published a revised and greatly enlarged issue of Euterpe as Der Fluyten Lust-hof I. Possibly as a reward, the Chapter of Saint John's raised his salary from 80 to 100 guilders 'on condition that he would now and then in the evening entertain the people strolling in the churchyard with the sound of his little flute [i.e. recorder]. In February 1654 van Eyck was ill, his will was drawn up. Johan Dicx, probably one of his former pupils, was appointed executor of his will and as his chief heir. The same year Paulus Matthysz published a second edition of Der Fluyten Lust-hof II.
In June 1655 Jacob van Eyck was in Amsterdam for inspecting the organ of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). In October Johan Dicx was allowed to take over van Eyck's duties as carillonneur. c1656 the third and last edition of Der Fluyten Lust-hof I was published. Jacob van Eyck died on March 26, 1657. He ws buried the next day in the Weeskerk (Orphan's Church), a short distance from where he had lived. For three hours, the bells of the Janskerk, the Jacobikerk and the Dom were tolled in his memory. Elegies on the death of the 'Utrecht Orpheus' were written by Lambertus Sanderus and Lodewijk Meijer. Sanderus also composed a four-line verse inscribed on van Eyck's gravestone.