On 13 September 1916 the mezzo-soprano Marie Versteegh (1884-1953) visited Diepenbrock at his home in Laren, where she sang through Beiaard (Carillion, RC 129) and the only just completed Belges, debout! (Belgians, Arise!, RC 131) with him. Impressing Diepenbrock with her voice and musicality, she inspired him to write Incantation. This was the first ‘art song’ he had composed since the start of the First World War. Since then Versteegh included songs by Diepenbrock in her repertory.
Diepenbrock composed Incantation between 22 September and 20 October 1916. He derived the text, a poem in free verse, from Les cahiers d’André Walter (The Notebooks of André Walter) by André Gide. He had owned this booklet since 1892. The title Incantation is by Diepenbrock himself. He also changed several words and omitted two lines of text, which he had set to music initially, but then crossed out in the definitive version, turning the piano part into a short intermezzo. He told Johan Alsbach, who published the song in 1917, that without these changes the text was
useless for the composition. (BD IX:281)
Diepenbrock commented on the character of the piece in a letter to the young singer Jacoba Repelaer van Driel:
This is once again an old-fashioned love song. (BD IX:246) Due to the presence of several thirds passages and the almost complete absence of four-part polyphony in the accompaniment, this song is more in keeping with the usual piano idiom than the rest of Diepenbrock’s oeuvre.
Both manuscripts and the printed edition of Incantation are dedicated to Marie Versteegh, who premiered the song on 17 December 1916. Afterwards Diepenbrock wrote to her:
You are entirely entitled to the dedication, not only because of your voice and your musical talent, but also because I would not have written this song without you, even if chance had put the text by Gide into my hands. (BD IX:278)
Marie Versteegh sang the song various times on a tour she made together with her husband Gerard Zalsman through the Dutch East Indies, China and Japan.
Together with the Berceuse for mezzo-soprano and piano (RC 112), the song is included in the album bound in calf leather that the composer gave as a present to Berthe Seroen (1882-1957) in 1917. With her unequalled expressive presentation and excellent technique, she was a great advocate of Diepenbrock’s French songs, usually accompanied by Evert Cornelis (1884-1931). Their rendition of Incantation and Berceuse in the Recital Hall of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on 27 March 1917 really impressed the audience and the press.