RC 105* Le foyer

  • Verlaine, Paul
  • solo voice and piano
  • July 31, 1910

In the early summer of 1910, from 22 May to 8 July, Johanna Jongkindt was staying in the Netherlands. Diepenbrock composed En sourdine (Muted, RC 104) for her birthday on 23 May and he also visited her several times during that one-and-a-half-month period. Their affair started while he was staying with her in the small town of Zeist from 10 to 11 June. Immediately after her return to her home in Uccle, Johanna wrote two long letters (now lost) about their relationship in which she must have quoted the opening line of Verlaine’s Le foyer (The Home), without mentioning the poet’s name. Diepenbrock enquired where it came from and looked up the poem he was not yet acquainted with in La bonne chanson (The Good Song).

The text describes the couple’s longing for the peaceful and content encounter – losing themselves in each other’s eyes (“les yeux se perdant parmi les yeux aimés”) – late in the evening by the light of a lamp. What they have been reading has been put aside, the tea is brewing, a pleasant tiredness can be felt, and a man and a woman await the sweet night. That, so the last lines tell us, is the fantasy the poet pursues in his dream, right through times of needless separation, without ever giving up.

The poem made Diepenbrock lament in a letter to his lover of 27 July:

Is it possible for life on earth to be ‘divine’? Tell me, Jo. The poem by Verlaine is beautiful. I did not know it. How I would love to set it to music for you. But the peace that is needed to do so. I still have so many letters to write. (BD VI:354)

However, four days later he did make an attempt, resulting in five introductory measures of the piano part and the first line of the voice.

Diepenbrock then turned his attention entirely to the symphonic song Die Nacht (The Night, RC 106) on a text by Hölderlin. The earliest sketches of this work date from 2 June and from 23 and 30 July. On 1 August he commented to Johanna about Le foyer:

I do not really think it is suitable for setting to music, maybe there will be a time I can turn it into something especially for you, something very simple, it should be whispered rather than sung. (BD VI:358-359)

After that the poem, or the desire to set it to music, never came up again in Diepenbrock’s correspondence.

Ton Braas