Dämmerung (Twilight), number VIII of the cycle Chinesisch-Deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten (Chinese-German Seasons and Times of Day), is the first poem by Goethe that Diepenbrock set to music. There is no documentation on the genesis of this choral work, written or finished on 6 May 1884 according to the date in the manuscript. However, we do know that once, at the time he was teaching in den Bosch, Diepenbrock played the piece for his friend Antoon Derkinderen. (BD III:8)
In the poem Goethe depicts the atmosphere of nightfall, when all that is nearby, appears to be far away. In the soft light of the evening star everything sways with uncertainty. Mist creeps slowly upwards; the silent lake reflects a pitch-black darkness. Then in the eastern sky the moon appears. On seeing its magical light and the moving shadows playing through the rustling trees, a sense of cool tranquillity descends on the heart.
Diepenbrock’s setting offers rich harmonies and subtly ‘translates’ the nuances in Goethe’s text. While the majority of the composition is homophonic, Diepenbrock constructed the quatrain “Alles schwankt in’s Ungewisse, / Nebel schleichen in die Höh’; / Schwartzvertiefte Finsternisse” in a strictly imitative manner, each of the voices entering on a dissonant. The word “schwanken” (to sway) is also expressed by the curve of the melody. The mist slowly creeping upwards is accompanied by an ascending octave leap. In the line “Wiederspiegelnd ruht der See” (The reflecting lake rests) ends with a long two-measure Generalpause.
On the words “Dort, am östlichen Bereiche” (There, in the eastern sky) the second part starts with a literal repeat of the first four measures. The moving shadows of the trees are portrayed by a supple quaver movement and on “Luna’s Zauberschein” (The magical moonlight) all voices are in a high register on a C-sharp major chord. Once again there is a two-measure Generalpause. The last lines of the poem are in A major (thirds relationship) and, while modulating back to C major, they are repeated once.
On 5 September 1897 Dämmerung and the Vijftiende-eeuwsch bruyloftslied (Fifteenth-Century Wedding Song, RC 10) were premiered in Delft by the Amsterdamsch Vocaal Kwartet – 15 years after these compositions came into being. The concert with works by, among others, Palestrina, Haydn, Lassus, Senfl, Loewe and Röntgen, marked the beginning of a tour the ensemble made that autumn of several Dutch towns (Schiedam, Dordrecht, Utrecht, Haarlem, The Hague, Eindhoven, Arnhem, Rotterdam, Middelburg, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Amsterdam, Hoorn, Groningen, Veendam, Leeuwarden, Apeldoorn, Hilversum, Deventer, Amersfoort, Nijmegen, Breda, Wageningen, Zaandam, Assen and Sneek). Diepenbrock and his wife thought the performance in Amsterdam of 9 October was beautiful. (BD III:510) The critics of the major newspapers and periodicals characterised Diepenbrock’s style at length. Composer-conductor Daniël de Lange (1841-1918) remarked:
The music closely follows the text. The harmonies that emerge from the melodies of the different voices are modern, so there are more than enough unusual transitions in this four-part song. In fact, they should not be called transitions: they are rather notes that accidentally sound simultaneously, which, in order to be considered chords, should have to be in some key or another, but which actually have a meaning only as transitory chords in relation to the general tonality. (BD III:510)