The Sounds of Euro Coins: Is Music Part of Belgium’s Public Image?

Voici les diapos PowerPoint (en format PDF) et le résumé en anglais de l’exposé que j’ai eu l’honneur de présenter à la 4e conférence pour les études belges au Japon, qui s’est déroulée à Tokyo les 15 et 16 décembre.

While euro banknotes are printed by the European Central Bank, euro coins are struck individually by each country. They have a common face and a national face. This remarkable feature allows each country to display an official national image and to preserve a national identity within a generic European organization.

In each country there are three kinds of euro coins: circulation coins, commemorative coins and collection coins. In a cashless society, as a matter of public image, the relative importance of these different types of coins is changing and a matter of debates. Circulation coins exist since 2002: they are the most common coins everybody knows and uses. Commemorative coins are special 2 € issues; since 2004, they are legal tender in all eurozone member countries. Each state is allowed to strike two issues per year. Their designs and texts have to be approved by the European Council. Collection coins on the other hand are under the sole responsibility of each individual state and cannot be used outside of the issuing country. As they are made of precious metals, their value is generally much higher than their denominations, and they are never used for shopping, although they could officially be means of payment. In Belgium the responsible authority for the themes and the issue quantities of these coins is the Minister of Finances.

How is music part of Belgium official identity as expressed through these three different types of coins?

Circulation coins

The only design on Belgian circulation coins is a representation of the Belgian monarch, and music is entirely absent from Belgian euro circulation coins. If we look at other eurozone members, music is not a popular theme on circulation coins, with the exception of Ireland and the representation of a harp on all its denominations: Austria 1€ coin is devoted to Mozart, and Slovenia 2 € to France Prešeren, with a quote from the national anthem. 2€ German coins also bear a sentence from the national anthem, on their edge.

Commemorative coins

Out of 31 issues, music is a theme for a Belgian commemorative coin only once: the 2 € coin struck in 2012 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the “Queen Elisabeth Competition”.

Somehow, music is actually absent from the coin, both from its text (Competition? What competition?) and from its image as it shows only a profile of the queen with her monogram. This represents a strong contrast with other public images celebrating this music contest, post stamps: the stamp emitted in 1937 for the creation of the contest shows the queen and a violin, and the stamp celebrating the 25th anniversary of the contest shows the queen playing the violin.

While not the most common theme on 2 € commemorative coins elsewhere in the eurozone, music appears frequently, through images linked to a building (Finland 2015: the view from Ainola, home of Jean Sibelius; Germany 2023: the Elbe Philharmonic Hall), a quote from the national anthem (Luxembourg 2013; Germany 2015), an allusions to a specific piece of music (Finland 2015: The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius), a music organization (Finland 2022: 100th anniversary of the Finnish National Ballet), anniversaries (France 2011: 30th anniversary of the Fête de la Musique; Estonia 2019: 150th anniversary of the Estonian Song Festival), a music composer (Italy 2013: Giuseppe Verdi), a concert director (Greece 2016: Dimitri Mitropoulos), music traditions (Latvia 2018: Lithuanian Song and Dance celebration, inscribed on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity; Latvia 2019: sutartinės).

Considering this quick comparison with other Eurozone countries, as far as circulation coins, including commemorative coins, are concerned, music is almost invisible on Belgian euros. It is not a topic that Belgian authorities have tried to promote to the benefit of European citizens or tourists and travelers from all around the world.

Collection coins

Music appears regularly on Belgian collection coins, with issues celebrating Django Reinhardt (2010, 10 €), Adolphe Sax (2014, 10 and 50 €), Toots Thielemans (2017, 20 €), Jacques Brel (2018, 10 €) and Belgian Music Festival Culture (2023, 2,5 €) (4 men, 0 woman).

Remarkably, classical music is absent from this list of celebrations, contrarily to jazz, represented by two popular musicians and by one of its iconic music instruments, the saxophone, through its inventor.

An always important source of contention in Belgium, languages’ representation, has been avoided concerning the personalities represented. If Django Reinhardt was born in Belgium, he was a French citizen from a Roma (or Gypsy) nomad family, which, in a way, takes him out of the problem. As for Toots Thielemans and Jacques Brel, they were bilingual Brussels artists.

The 2023 coin celebrating the Belgian Festival culture is highly original with its “rock on” gesture and the representation of loudspeakers. At the same time, it fits with the other Belgian coins celebrating music, not so much as an artistic genre or as a highbrow form of culture, but rather as a popular way of life, as a representation of the easy-going nature of Belgian people.

Les concerts de la conférence

En accord avec le thème de la conférence, la musique en Belgique, celle-ci s’est ouverte et clôturée par deux concerts d’excellente qualité. En voici les programmes et les interprètes, qui ont été fort applaudis, comme ils le méritaient. Comme ces morceaux ne sont pas necessairement connus, à titre d’illustration, je place une video YouTube d’interpretations par des musiciens differents.

Concert d’ouverture

  • Ayako Kato (violon) : Eugène Isaÿe, Sonate pour violon seul no. 5
Ayako Kato répétant la sonate
  • Noriko Yakushiji (soprano), Ayako Morita (piano) : Makoto Moroi (諸井 誠), extraits de “Le pays des enfants” (子供の国), 4. La balançoire (ぶらんこ), 5. Le messager (お使い), 6. Le ballon rouge (赤い風船) ; Jean Absil, extraits d’ “Heure de grâce” 1. Orage, 2. La blanche église, 3. C’est du soleil
  • Aska Iino (piano) : pardon, il y a eu un changement de programme et je n’ai pas eu la présence d’esprit de prendre des notes
  • Maya Kai (violon), Atsushi Kakiuchi (piano) : Henri Vieuxtemps, 3 romances sans paroles, op. 7. 1. Chant d’amour, 2. Désespoir, 3. Souvenir

Concert final

F.-J. Fétis, Les soeurs jumelles. Opéra comique

Interprété par Ryota Hiraga, Azusa Miura, Misaki Shimpuku, Takumi Moriai, Tomojiro Tamura, Keisuke Konno. Les dialogues etaient joués en japonais et les airs chantés en français, avec beaucoup de naturel et d’allant. C’était très réussi.

Au piano : Yoshio Nakayasu

Mise en scène : Osamu Tomori et Chikako Osako

Citer ce billet
Alexis D'Hautcourt (2023, 25 décembre). The Sounds of Euro Coins: Is Music Part of Belgium’s Public Image? Faces d'identité. Consulté le 19 juin 2024, à l’adresse

Par Alexis D'Hautcourt

Professeur, Université des Langues Étrangères du Kansai (関西外国語大学, Kansai Gaidai University)

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