Diepenbrock wrote his Berceuse for mezzo-soprano, cello and piano in October 1912 as a gift for his friends Gérard and Julie Hekking-Cahen on the occasion of the birth of their daughter Françoise. In 1916 Berthe Seroen (1882-1957) became a passionate advocate of the work which she premiered in the original version together with the cellist Marix Loevensohn (1880-1943) and the pianist Hans Franco Mendes (1890-1951) on 6 May of that year. (The version with just piano accompaniment – RC 112 – had been played in public before.)
After the successful performances of the piano version that Seroen gave the following season with Evert Cornelis, she requested Diepenbrock to orchestrate the work for a concert with the Utrecht City Orchestra, conducted by Jan van Gilse (1881-1944), on 3 April 1918. Diepenbrock consented, but at first he had to break his promise when on 24 February he was suddenly commissioned by Willem Royaards to write incidental music for the production of Goethe’s Faust on 30 March (see RC 141). Therefore he considered asking Sem Dresden (1881-1957) to arrange the Berceuse in accordance with his guidelines. In a letter to Seroen, he described them as follows:
The piano part […] must be set for harp. This requires knowledge of the Harp, and the harmony (the chords) should be arranged around it by the divided Violins and violas, all con Sordino, as a light atmosphere. There are not to be any Cellos, only the Solo Cello, the part that already exists […], the Basses are to play some pizzicatos here and there […]. You will like it that way and it will be easy to play (as long as the Cello Soloist is good); it is also very favourable for the Harp and the voice. I shall do my best to make sure that you will get it, but it cannot be done before 26 March. (BD IX:326)
We do not know whether Dresden did not have the time, but in the end Diepenbrock orchestrated the Berceuse himself after completing his Faust music. On 1 April 1918 the score was ready, arranged in accordance with the ideas he had explained in his letter. The next day he sent it to Seroen, together with the parts that a copyist had hastily made.
For the young composer Willem Pijper (1894-1947), who had been a critic at the newspaper Utrechtsch Stedelijk en Provinciaal Dagblad for a year, the performance was an eye opener:
The instrumentation of Diepenbrock’s Berceuse was a surprise, just like hearing this beautiful little song […] was a surprise for me. Really – I never knew that Diepenbrock’s music had such subtle and personal accents – I did not know that he was such a Master at this genre. In this work there are no more, or hardly any Wagner influences from the past – the protracted duration of other (older) works has been replaced by a concise, interesting structure – thus, Diepenbrock has produced a completely individual form of art. […] Berthe Seroen sang this work in particular unsurpassably. (BD IX:594)
There are records of another performance by Seroen with the cellist Toon Verhey (1894-1958) and the Arnhem Orchestral Society, conducted by Leo Ruygrok (1884-1944), on 5 May 1919.