RC 100* Lorsque l'enfant paraît

  • Hugo, Victor ()
  • solo voice and piano
  • September 5, 1909

The only comment Diepenbrock made about Victor Hugo (1802-1885) that we know of, is about the novel Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). In a letter he wrote to his wife-to-be in 1895 he said it was very nice, adding:

I read it with horror and enthusiasm a very long time ago. [...] At that time I felt in turn like Pierre Gringoire, Claude Frollo and Esméralda. What a shame that Quasimodo is such a monster and so unnecessarily ugly. (BD II:344)

However, Diepenbrock never commented on Hugo’s poetry in writing. His library did not contain any of Hugo’s numerous collections of poems either.

In the first four strophes, the poem Lorsque l’enfant paraît (When the Child Appears) sketches the joys of a new born child. All eyes shine when they behold the innocent, happy little creature; even the most plagued face relaxes. There is laughter when it takes its first steps, anxiously followed by its mother. Should a serious conversation be taking place about important themes such as the Nation, God or esteemed poets, the topic is dropped as soon as the child appears. The next four strophes are an ode to the “double virginité” (twofold virginity) of the child: its body and spirit are still completely unspoilt and pure. The last and ninth strophe is a prayer: God forbid that the poet and everyone he loves, and even his enemies, will ever experience a summer without colourful flowers, a cage without birds, a hive without bees, a house without children.

Diepenbrock’s little daughters Joanna and Thea, born in 1905 and 1907 respectively, brought him much joy. For his wife’s birthday on 22 July 1909 he got a photographer to take a beautiful picture of the little ones. (BD VI:128) That summer he and his family were staying with Liza and Dina Ament in their house “De Bijlakker” in the village of Laren. Hugo’s Lorsque l’enfant paraît might have come up then. It is also possible that Johanna Jongkindt (1882-1945) sent Diepenbrock a copy of the poem from Belgium; in her letters she told him all sort of things about her daughter Cathrien (“Titi”). No matter how he was introduced to the text, the topic inspired him.

On 5 September 1909 Diepenbrock notated a fragment of nineteen measures containing the first strophe of Hugo’s poem, set in the key of E major. The voice has a fine, rhythmically flexible melody. Noteworthy is the seventh leap from m. 8 to m. 9 with a double appoggiatura on the first beat. The harmonies are simple. The reason why Diepenbrock stopped the composition after 1/8 of the text must be that three days later he started a large work: his incidental music to Marsyas, of De betooverde bron (Marsyas, or the Enchanted Spring, RC 101).

Ton Braas