RC 107 Weihnachtslied (“Fern im Osten wird es helle”)

  • Novalis
  • mezzo-soprano and organ
  • October 5, 1910 | revised October 1, 1911 - November 30, 1911

At the end of October 1909 Diepenbrock’s Hymne an die Nacht “Muss immer der Morgen wiederkommen” (Hymn to the Night “Must the Morning Always Return”, RC 50) on a text by Novalis was performed several times by the Hungarian alto Ilona Durigo and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Willem Mengelberg. In the period 1897-1899 Diepenbrock had set five texts from the Geistliche Lieder (Sacred Songs) and the Hymnen an die Nacht by Novalis – pseudonym of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801) – to music (RC 37, 45, 47, 49 and 50). The works by this German early Romantic poet and philosopher, who died at an early age, meant a lot to the composer. The performances of 1909 rekindled his interest.

From the summer of 1910 until the autumn of 1911 Novalis’ name frequently popped up in the correspondence between Diepenbrock and his friend Johanna Jongkindt. In June 1910 Diepenbrock started a new composition on a text by this poet: Weihnachtslied (Christmas Song). There is a short draft dating from the beginning of that month, several days after Diepenbrock had made the first sketch for his symphonic song Die Nacht (The Night, RC 106) on a poem by Hölderlin. After the premiere of that work in October 1911, Diepenbrock returned to his Weihnachtslied. The first two verses of the song have been written out for mezzo-soprano and organ, with the tempo indication Andante con moto. Although the manuscript reached more than fifty measures, the composition was never completed.

Characteristic are its ascending triad motives, followed by octave leaps on the opening line “Fern im Osten wird es helle, Graue Zeiten werden jung” (Far away in the east it is becoming bright, dark times become young). Ascending triads such as these, which Diepenbrock regularly uses, often refer to transcendental elements in a text. They can also be found in the hymn Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe (Few Know the Secret of Love, RC 47/58), which is also on a text by Novalis, and in the introduction of the above-mentioned Die Nacht.

Désirée Staverman