RC 117 L’invitation au voyage (“Mon enfant, ma soeur”)

  • Baudelaire, Charles ()
  • bariton or mezzo-soprano and piano
  • June 6, 1913 - June 17, 1913
  • duration 5:45

After Les chats (The cats, RC 68) and Recueillement (Contemplation, RC 79), L’invitation au voyage (Invitation to the Voyage) is the third poem from the collection Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Charles Baudelaire that Diepenbrock set to music.

On Friday 6 June 1913 Diepenbrock started making the pencil sketch which he completed on Sunday 8 June. He added to the date that it was a rainy and windy day. W.G. Hondius van den Broek also complained in a letter that it had been terrible weather that weekend. (BD VIII:177) Possibly Diepenbrock chose this poem by Baudelaire to keep from getting depressed. On 3 June he had written to Hondius: Lately it has been very dark inside me. (ibid.)

In L’invitation au voyage Baudelaire evokes a euphoric dream for his beloved: travelling together to the country that resembles her. The sunlight that shines through wisps of mist has the same mysterious allure as the twinkle in her tearful eyes. In the second and third strophe Baudelaire depicts a carefree life surrounded by furniture that shines through years of use, rare fragrant flowers, richly decorated ceilings, mirrors that give the rooms a feeling of depth, and oriental splendour – everything communicates with the soul in the country’s language. Ships will go out and collect whatever the heart desires. The setting sun drapes the farmland, the canals, and the city in gold, yellow and red; in this warm light the world falls asleep. According to the refrain, there – and the reader realises it is referring to the Netherlands – all is orderly, beautiful, affluent, peaceful and sensual.

In the piano sketch of the song, Diepenbrock has notated violoncello at the beginning of the piano part (notated on one stave), indicating the character of the accompanying figure that runs through the whole piece. The punctuated rhythm, which as the sketch indicates has the movement of a slow waltz, is only interrupted after seventeen measures. Two measures later the rhythmic figure is resumed. In the refrain the piano for the first time has a melodic line in the right hand: a fragment of the vocal theme as an instrumental echo. In the short intermezzo the piano plays the descending octave motive three more times.

Atmospheric painting

The images Baudelaire evokes in the second and third strophe, inspired Diepenbrock to make the piano constantly contribute to the atmospheric depiction in the voice by means of a counterpoint of at first imitative, then independent melodies. The ceilings and the mirrors have been given a long trill in the piano, the oriental splendour of the interior is translated into a dense texture. The golden Dutch light has been provided with a musical counterpart through a four-part polyphonic texture. In the setting of the last line of the third strophe, “dans une chaude lumière!” (in a warm light), the unexpected, false cadence-like modulation comes as a surprise. In the third refrain Diepenbrock has added a short vocalise to the final note of the voice, like he did a year earlier in his Berceuse (RC 111).

On 17 June 1913 Diepenbrock turned the sketch into a neat copy in ink (also in g minor). On the 21st – the longest day, but it seemed like October – he sent this copy to Johanna Raphael-Jongkindt, whom he was to meet in The Hague on 25 June. In July Diepenbrock mentioned L’invitation au voyage in a letter to her:

It is a fine song with a curious sort of sarcasm that cannot be found in the poem. Do you hear “le coup d’archet tzigane” (the bowing gypsy) in the accompaniment, which is extremely difficult for voice and piano. […] How do you like that nicely shining furniture in the music? Isn’t it “amusing”?
[here Diepenbrock notated mm. 58-64 of his song, see illustration]
It is also very melancholic, don’t you think. Somebody like Cahier should sing it with her floating voice, if she has a good French pronunciation. Unfortunately, Durigo does not have that. She will go crazy when she sees this song, it will bring out the gypsy in her. (BD VIII:194)

The Hungarian mezzo-soprano Ilona Durigo (1881-1943) did indeed perform Diepenbrock’s L’invitation au voyage, on Sunday 21 September 1913 at a gathering of mutual friends in Laren after a matinee in the Concertgebouw at which she had sung the solo part of Mahler’s Third Symphony. She liked the song a lot (when sung a semitone higher, in g-sharp minor), but nevertheless Diepenbrock concluded:

Sung by a Mezzo, it does not have the diabolic seductiveness as when Zals[man] sings it with his gentle baritone voice. (BD VIII:247)

Not long afterwards, on 3 October 1913, Mrs Charles Cahier (1870-1951) and her husband visited the Diepenbrocks. On that occasion she too sang through the song.

Dedication and printed edition

In January 1916 Diepenbrock made a copy of L’invitation au voyage, set a semitone lower, for the alto Anke Schierbeek (1878-1960). He also dedicated the composition to her, as he told her on 11 February. Together they performed the song at various concerts they gave during the First World War for Belgian war victims and prisoners of war. Most likely their performance on 1 March 1916 was the premiere of the work. Anke Schierbeek was also to finance a private edition (in f-sharp minor) of 210 copies, which – after a laborious production process – appeared on 26 June 1920. Diepenbrock could then distribute the song on a larger scale; among others, Marie Versteegh (1884-1953) and Elise Menagé Challa (1891-1962) received a presentation copy.

L’invitation au voyage was one of the songs Diepenbrock bound in a leather cover to give as a gift to the Belgian mezzo-soprano Berthe Seroen (1882-1957) on 7 April 1917. In the manuscript for her, he maintained the original key of g minor.

Ton Braas

Illustration: Letter dated 13 July 1913 to Johanna Raphael Jongkindt with an excerpt of the song