There are no autographs of the Drie Ballades (Three Ballads) opus 1 in the Diepenbrock archive; nevertheless, the date of composition of each of the songs is known as Diepenbrock wrote the month and year of composition beneath his name at the beginning of each song in one of his copies of the printed edition of 1885.
A small fragment of Entsagung (Renunciation) has survived in Diepenbrock’s hand as part of his contribution to the Liber Amicorum for his college friend C.H. Rogge, presented to him on his departure to the Dutch East Indies in 1885. Above his words of farewell, Diepenbrock notated the four measures of the line “Ja! die Zeit ist hingeflogen, die Erinn’rung weichet nie.” (Yes! Time has flown, but the memory will never fade.)
At the time no mention was made of the publication of the Drie Ballades in any of the specialist journals. Therefore, a review in the literary weekly De Portefeuille of 7 November 1885 is of great importance: it marks the first time Diepenbrock as a composer was extensively reviewed. The way the critic J.A. Lekman introduced the young debutant is striking:
It was not without some surprise that I became acquainted with above ballads. For I asked myself, how can it be that a young composer with such talent has remained, until now at least, so little known to the music world. Later I heard that Mr Diepenbrock is not a professional musician, and so, one might say, he should be considered a dilettante. However, in my criticism I will pay absolutely no attention to this, as, in my view, as far as composition is concerned, the products of dilettantism should not be judged less harshly than those of professional musicians. Let me add immediately that the three compositions by Mr Diepenbrock by no means reveal the hand of a dilettante.
Lekman observes that the construction of the melodies is based on Wagner, i.e. entirely declamatory, a judgement that is by no means intended negatively – on the contrary. Although he finds fault with some details, Lekman is very positive about Diepenbrock’s talent and advises every competent tenor to purchase these ballads. (BD V:782-783)
Commercially the publication of the Drie Ballades opus 1 was not a success. Diepenbrock was contractually bound to buy back the unsold copies from music publisher Roothaan. (BD I:100) According to a letter from Hondius van den Broek to the composer dated 12 October 1907 (BD V:446), he apparently did.
In 1886 Diepenbrock had plans to go to Bayreuth to meet Anton Bruckner, in those days almost unknown in the Netherlands, with whom he wanted to study. From a letter from E.T. Kuiper to H. van Gelder, both college friends of the composer, dated 17 August 1886, it can be inferred that Diepenbrock intended to introduce himself to Bruckner with the printed edition of the Drie Ballades. (BD I:116) He must have refrained from making the journey at the last minute, as his name does not appear on the list of foreigners in Bayreuth and the issue Bruckner/Bayreuth is mentioned no more in the composer’s correspondence.1
Eduard Reeser & Maurits Reijnen
1 See Josine Meurs, Wagner in Nederland 1843-1914 (Zutphen: Walburg Pers 2002), 247-248.