Alphons Diepenbrock composed the Hymnus de Spiritu Sancto at the request of chaplain, hymnologist and church musician Cornelis van Erven Dorens. He was looking for a Veni Creator Spiritus he could rehearse with members of Rotterdam choral societies during a church music course. As he considered the works he had found in various catalogues
of very inferior artistic merit (BD V:78), he asked Diepenbrock in a letter of 16 January 1906 to write a simple, through-composed Veni Creator Spiritus for male choir and organ.
Diepenbrock immediately accepted the request. However, he confessed the day after its completion on 16 March 1906 that he had experienced some difficulty with the composition because he had not written any church music for years and he wanted to comply with the requirement
to write it as simple and easy as I could. He continued:
I am not very satisfied with the result myself. The iambic metre and the overall very abstract content do not make the composition easy to me. (BD V:108-109)
In compliance with the wishes of the client, the Hymnus de Spiritu Sancto is through-composed; evocative and contemplative passages alternate. Where musical material is repeated in the choral parts, the accompanying organ part generally provides variation. In the organ intermezzos that introduce new sections there are several modulations. Also some chromaticism can be found in the choral parts.
In a letter to van Erven Dorens, Diepenbrock explains the work:
The melodies of this Veni Creator, the unison sections, are based on ancient Gregorian melodies. Both the music and the words “Infunde Amorem” of the middle movement are warmer and more lyrical. Still, this movement does not have to become mellow when sung by a choir that understands the meaning of the words. However, in my opinion the old rules about the use of sixths do not apply here. If that were a requirement, the composer would be so restricted that it would dampen his inspiration and he would have to resort to schemes and formulas. I have made the structure entirely dependent on the iambic set-up of the strophes, so the free through-composed song form is automatically there. Consequently, I also had to accentuate Parāclitus (which is against my linguistic instinct as a Latin scholar). […] It goes without saying that the piece should be recited in a free rubato tempo. Linked to this is the sometimes rather complicated rhythm with triplets in duple metre. Organists who think this is “strange”, should take some time to practice it. I would have liked the piece to have been warmer, more thriving, but I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, and perhaps I could not have done any better at this moment. (BD V:116)
Diepenbrock dedicated the work to van Erven Dorens in honour of his
sympathy for my approach to church music. (BD V:115)
Obstacles acquiring the Church’s approval
Although the church music course was over, van Erven Dorens declared his enthusiasm for the composition. On 3 August 1906 he excitedly wrote:
The clergymen in Rotterdam love the music and, like me, they want to introduce it in the church. I played it to them on the organ. Including the Tantum ergo. (BD V:186)
In the meantime, the work had been sent to the official committee for the approval of Roman Catholic church music in order to obtain the Nihil obstat. Quite unusually, the case was put to the entire board of 26 censors. At the meeting on 12 October, sixteen of them considered Diepenbrock’s Hymnus de Spiritu Sancto inappropriate for use during the liturgy.
Chairman Mgr. J.A.S. van Schaik played a curious role in this. Initially, he had been positive about the composition to van Erven Dorens, letting him know in a letter that in this work “he could feel the pure, yet warm breath of the Liturgy”. (BD V:137) However, at the moment supreme he refrained from giving his approval because of reminiscences two passages evoked in him:
In itself, I do not consider the melodic and harmonic progression used there less ecclesiastical than any other. But the fact is that Richard Wagner has given it such indelible Tannhäuser characteristics, that its appearance, even in this context, has strong associations with the theatre that are too lively to be reconciled with the attentive mood of prayer. (BD V:243)
Halfway through October Diepenbrock was informed by van Erven Dorens about the official rejection, which upset him badly.
Diepenbrock suspected van Schaik of being in league with parties that had an interest in excluding him from the church music scene. With a minor alteration the resemblance to Tannhäuser, which he recognised in one measure, could be eliminated, as he demonstrated to van Erven Dorens. (BD V:245-246) However, out of principle the composer did not wish to make any changes to the piece, because he did not want to give the impression of being
a schoolboy who has redone his work. (BD V:252) Instead, at the beginning of November 1906 Diepenbrock composed another Veni Creator Spiritus, this time for male choir a cappella (see RC 74).
The rejection of Diepenbrock’s composition caused a stir. Anton Averkamp, for instance, submitted a request for a revision with a plea for Diepenbrock’s style to the committee, but to no avail. In May 1907 Diepenbrock finally heard the arguments for the rejection via Averkamp:
1) Unusual rhythms, 2) strong modulations, 3) excess of alterations, which detracts from the peaceful dignity, 4) reminiscences of Tannhäuser, 5) the opening that is not a humble supplication. (BD V:383)
On 25 November 1913 Diepenbrock reworked the music in some places. Half a year later, on 25 May 1914, the work was premiered in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw by the Royal Liedertafel Apollo conducted by Fred. J. Roeske, who were pleased to repeat it on the insistence of the audience. (BD VIII:671) After the second performance by this male choir on 9 May 1916, Diepenbrock requested the conductor to adapt the voice-leading of the second tenor
in the interest of good sound. (BD IX:106)
On 18 February 1925, under the chairmanship of W.P.H. Jansen, the Nihil obstat was granted after all. That same year the Hymnus de Spiritu Sancto was published by A.A. Noske in collaboration with the Alphons Diepenbrock Foundation.