RC 112 Berceuse (“Le Seigneur a dit à son enfant”)

  • Lerberghe, Charles Van ()
  • mezzo soprano and piano
  • November 1, 1912 - November 30, 1912
  • duration 5:30

Days after completing his Berceuse for mezzo-soprano, cello and piano (RC 111), Diepenbrock made a copy of the work for Johanna Raphael-Jongkindt, who had brought the inspiring poem by van Lerberghe to his attention. It was not an exact copy: I have rewritten the Cello part for the piano for you, so you can play it easily. (BD VIII:54)

Almost a year later, on 10 October 1913, he asked her to send this transcript back to him, so he could copy the version “for piano only” for the mezzo-soprano Mrs Charles Cahier (1870-1951). (BD VIII:254) This singer had impressed him with her song recital in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on 1 October:

She is an incredible artist. […] Her voice sounds most charming in a small concert hall, and even someone who is as deaf as a doorpost would be entertained watching her fantastic facial expressions. (BD VIII: 254)

The next day, on 2 October, Diepenbrock and his wife were deeply moved by her contribution in the first ever complete performance of Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) by the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg. They also attended the repeat in The Hague on 5 October, which made an even greater impression, according to the diary of Elisabeth. (BD VIII:248) On one of the intervening days, the couple Cahier visited the Diepenbrocks for lunch. The French mezzo-soprano sang through several of his songs and said she counted on Diepenbrock writing “something new” for her.

Although Johanna immediately sent her copy of the Berceuse, Diepenbrock did not carry out his plan to make a transcript for Cahier, as he was working hard on the score of the symphonic song Lydische nacht (Lydian Night, RC 118). Half a year later Diepenbrock still had not got round to it.

On 12 May 1915 Diepenbrock played the Berceuse and L’invitation au voyage (Invitation to the Voyage, RC 117) for Cato Loman, which she described in her diary as two jewels or rather gems. (BD VIII:466) The manuscript of 1912 was also used for the premiere of the Berceuse by Alice Plato1 (1889-1961) and Evert Cornelis (1884-1931) on 27 October 1915. When Diepenbrock received requests for the material from other musicians, he got a copyist to make a transcript. On 17 January 1916 Diepenbrock sent this copy to Anke Schierbeek (1878-1960) with whom he was to perform the Berceuse at charity concerts to raise money for Belgian prisoners of war and their families in the exhibition hall of the Amsterdam Trade Bank on 1 and 10 March 1916.

Printed edition

At the beginning of May 1917 a printed edition of the song was published by the Walloon engineer and pianist Pierre Hans (1886-1960), whom Diepenbrock had given free use of the version for mezzo-soprano and piano. Hans, who used to teach chemistry at the University of Liège before the war, was living in exile near the city of Maastricht. With several fellow countrymen he had founded a society that gave charity concerts to aid Belgian prisoners of war in Germany. The profits of the sale of Diepenbrock’s Berceuse also went towards this cause.

The publication made it easier for the composer to present the work to various singers at a time, such as Jacoba Repelaer van Driel (1884-1967). In a letter to her he says about the text of the composition:

I also like the poem very much, even though one should not take everything literally, for example “Ne pense pas” (Do not think). What I do take literally is: “Toute science est vaine” (All science is pointless), that is to say, science in the stupid “scientific” meaning attributed by “modern science”.

Already in June 1917 the work needed to be reprinted.

Berthe Seroen (1882-1957) and Evert Cornelis performed the song many a time. After their concert in Diligentia in The Hague on 7 February 1918, the critic A. de Wal characterised Diepenbrock’s Berceuse as a song in light-golden neo-Renaissance poignancy of beauty, contemplative and of aristocratic noble depth. (BD IX:574)

Another passionate advocate of the song was Marie Versteegh (1884-1953) who frequently performed it at the recitals she gave abroad with her husband Gerard Zalsman, e.g. in Chicago on 4 June 1919. At the end of the year Marie enthusiastically reported about their tour of Japan and the Dutch East Indies:

G. once sang “Puisque l’aube grandit” (Since Dawn Awoke) and “Recueillement” (Contemplation) here, and I sang the “Berceuse” everywhere and sometimes “Incantation” and all the other songs. They were always a great success. (BD X:164)

When the supply of printed copies by Pierre Hans started to run out in the course of 1919, Diepenbrock felt entitled to publish the composition himself, as by then the Belgian prisoners of war had been repatriated. An edition of 200 copies, printed by Mouton & Co in The Hague, appeared on 26 June 1920, together with the edition of L’invitation au voyage (Invitation to the Voyage, RC 117) from 1913.

Ton Braas

1 Alice Plato was the wife of Jacques Baart de la Faille, a lawyer and a member of the board of executives of the Association of Neutral Countries, the pro-Allied organisation in which Diepenbrock played an important role.