The works by Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg (1772-1801), better known under his pseudonym Novalis, were close to Diepenbrock’s heart. His high regard for the ideas of the German poet and philosopher comes up time and time again in his letters and also in his essays Diepenbrock repeatedly expressed his admiration for the “wonderfully delicate flowers of mystic delight and exceptional insight, blossoming in the soul of good-natured dreamers such as Novalis”. (VG 28) One of Diepenbrock’s essays on the essence of music bears as motto the following quote by Novalis:
“Alles Sichtbare haftet am Unsichtbaren, das Hörbare am Unhörbaren, das Fühlbare am Unfühlbaren. Vielleicht das Denkbare am Undenkbaren.”
(All that is visible adheres to the invisible, all that is audible to the inaudible, all that is tangible to the intangible. Perhaps all that is thinkable to the unthinkable. VG 73)
As a composer Diepenbrock was especially inspired by the mystical tone of Novalis’ Hymnen an die Nacht (Hymns to the Night). The series of songs on texts from this collection starts with Hinüber wall’ ich (I Pilgrimage over There, RC 37) from 1897, and reaches a highpoint two years later with Hymnen an die Nacht for voice and orchestra (RC 49 and RC 50).
Preceding the Hymnen an die Nacht, Diepenbrock wrote two compositions for soprano and organ on texts from Novalis’ Geistliche Lieder (Sacred Songs), which in the nineteenth century was a very popular collection. The set of poems, which were written in 1799 and 1800 and published posthumously, were intended as food for thought for the Protestant congregation. With these mystical but overall easy hymns, Novalis hoped to contribute to the depth of the congregation’s personal faith.
From this collection Diepenbrock first set Wenn ich ihn nur habe (If Only I Have Him) to music in the autumn of 1898, then he started his Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe (Few Know the Secret of Love, RC 47). Both songs, which the composer usually refers to as a pair, were written for and dedicated to Aaltje Noordewier.-Reddingius. Given the religious theme, Diepenbrock naturally chose the organ for the accompaniment. He gave specific instructions for the registration of Wenn ich ihn nur habe:
The registration as much as possible with Gamba 8’ alternated with Hohl Flute 8’
as little as possible flute stops
lingual stops only at the f at the end
This registration as it were points towards the orchestration Diepenbrock would make of this song in 1906 (see RC 72).
Unaffected melody of the voice
The composition closely follows the structure of the simple poem, which has identical openings for each strophe. The unaffected melody of the voice (semplice) is mostly syllabic. An exception to this is the exuberant melisma at the end of the third verse (on “durchdringen” – penetrate). Several times the easy-going motion (Andante con moto) in 3/4 time is interrupted by a change of measure for the sake of prosody. Wenn ich ihn nur habe is in b minor, but in the last verse (opening with the words “Wo ich ihn nur habe, ist mein Vaterland”) Diepenbrock permanently switches to major, which was already latent before.
At the beginning of 1899 Diepenbrock intended to send both Geistliche Lieder to his friend Charles Smulders in order to gauge his opinion. However, by then he had become engrossed in his work on the Hymne an die Nacht for soprano and orchestra. From the fact that on 3 October of that same year Diepenbrock asked Smulders to return the manuscript of the songs to him for a rehearsal with the singer and organist, we can deduce that Smulders took the Geistliche Lieder with him after visiting Amsterdam for several days in April to attend two concerts with compositions of his own.
When it turned out that Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius was disinclined to sing Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe (see RC 47), it was decided that only Wenn ich ihn nur habe would be performed in the St Peter’s Church in Utrecht on 14 November 1899. As the final work on the programme, it made a huge impression. As a critic said:
“After hearing such a work, silence befits us, equally respectful as the silence that hung in the large, packed church after the last notes had faded away.” (BD III:554)
Hugo Nolthenius hailed Wenn ich ihn nur habe as in
word and tone a masterpiece of noble, sympathetic feeling and perfect technique. (BD III:555)