In July 1902 Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe (Few Know the Secret of Love) on a text by Novalis was premiered in the original version of 1898 with organ accompaniment (RC 47). Although Diepenbrock was not entirely happy with the performance by the tenor Jos. Tijssen and the organist W. de Vries in the St Steven’s Church in Nijmegen, he certainly enjoyed hearing the work (see BD III:431). In the autumn he started the orchestration of the Abendmahlshymne (Hymn of the Last Supper), which is first mentioned in a letter of 4 November 1902. It was initiated by Tijssen, for whom Diepenbrock also orchestrated the sonnet Avondzang (Evening Song, RC 13/59) and Zij sluimert (She Slumbers, RC 51/60) in 1903.
The orchestration took Diepenbrock a lot of time and effort, so he wrote on 3 December, because the song had been intended for organ (see BD IV:44). Yet, at the same time he would have realised that rewriting the polyphonic organ accompaniment of Wenige wissen for orchestra offered new possibilities. He chose an extensive instrumentation with double woodwinds (augmented by English horn and bass clarinet), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings. He used the ‘loud brass instruments’ especially in the intermezzos.
The work was never performed by Tijssen as a soloist. On 21 November 1906, four years after the completion of the score, the orchestrated version of Wenige wissen was premiered by Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. It was also the first time she sang this song that was originally composed for her. She had now overcome her earlier objections against the Abendmahlshymne – she had refused to sing the song “because she did not understand the music, and the words were foreign to her” (BD V:253). For this occasion Diepenbrock had also orchestrated the Geistliches Lied “Wenn ich ihn nur habe” (Religious Song “If Only I Have Him”, RC 45/72). Although during the rehearsals of the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg hardly any time was spent on studying the new accompaniments of the songs (see RC 72), the performance of Wenige wissen made a big impression, according to the composer:
Only Wenige wissen sounded great, despite the mistakes and missed entries, and moved the audience.(BD V:271)
Later Aaltje Noordewier performed the hymn regularly. After singing it with piano accompaniment on 2 September 1912 in honour of Diepenbrock at a festive diner with friends in celebration of his fiftieth birthday, she also decided to perform Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe a year later at the concert for her silver jubilee with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on 10 September 1913.
Diepenbrock used this concert as an opportunity to thoroughly revise the orchestration he had made eleven years earlier. He gave Mengelberg clear instructions:
I have now […] looked over the orchestration that is no longer to my current taste and I have thinned it out drastically. Take care that there are no more desks playing than I have exactly indicated every time (for the ordinary accompaniment of the voice only 3 desks of 1st violins and 3 desks of 2nd violins, 2 desks of violas and 2 desks of cellos, then in some places several Solos, and in the intermezzos all the desks.” (BD VIII:225)
The plea for transparency of the orchestral sound expressed here can also be related to a new composition Diepenbrock was very busy with during these months: Lydische nacht (Lydian Night, RC 118) for spoken voice switching to singing voice and orchestra.
Besides arias by Handel and Mozart and songs by Richard Strauss, the programme of Noordewier’s jubilee concert included instrumental works by Weber and Vivaldi, as well as the Scherzo from Mahler’s Second Symphony. In this context the meditative Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe received the least applause, despite the beautiful execution by both the singer and the orchestra. However, the critic of the daily paper De Telegraaf L. van Gigch liked the soprano better in this work than in Strauss’ Cäcilie that rounded off the concert. And Matthijs Vermeulen concluded in the newspaper De Tijd:
What we heard before the break was lovely music, but nevertheless only earthly fleeting music, which soon sticks in the mind. Here one was suddenly faced with the intangible, with mysterious sparkles of the mind, with the profundities of the poetry. Here one measures “the unfathomable distances of heaven”, here “the holy glow melts the heart in trembling waves”, here one learns the “endless fullness of love”. From this eternal kingdom of dreams a different type of music rises and the most simple things, such as a major third on “Von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit” (From eternity to eternity), penetrate the soul for which this new song of songs has been written. (BD VIII:640)
In the weekly De Amsterdammer Vermeulen added to his observations:
The skill with which Mrs Noordewier sang this difficult song (it is almost ancient psalmody) once again amazed me. (BD VIII:641)