RC 77 Mignon (“Kennst du das Land”)

  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
  • contralto and orchestra
  • February 1, 1907 - February 28, 1907
  • duration 6:40

Between 1906 and 1908 Diepenbrock revised and orchestrated several of his early songs. In a letter to one of his friends of December 1907 he explained the reason for the series of orchestrations: The accompaniment is […] not suited for the piano. It has too many orchestral colours. (BD V:482) During this period he also wrote several new songs, which were almost immediately orchestrated.

Although the ballads Mignon (RC 12) and Der König in Thule (The King in Thule, RC 16) date back to when Diepenbrock was a student (composed in 1884 and 1886 respectively), they were only premiered, in the orchestral version, in the spring of 1907. The piano versions were never performed in public. Mignon was revised in February 1907, the other ballad in March (see RC 78). According to correspondence and unsigned programme notes that were most likely written by Diepenbrock, the alto Pauline de Haan-Manifarges initiated these arrangements. (BD V:724) Diepenbrock was pleased to accept her request, as she had been one of the main advocates of his work for years.

The score of Mignon calls for oboe and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns and strings. In keeping with the character of the composition, which according to Diepenbrock, is entirely written in a free declamatory form (BD V:724), the orchestration is overall very subdued and extremely subtle. Many instruments appear as a solo. On Mignon’s question “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn” (Do you know the land where the lemon trees blossom) the strings enter divided and con sordino. The first chord on the word “Land” is divided over four (solo) violas. In the third verse this indefinable feeling returns.

On 21 April 1907 Pauline de Haan-Manifarges (1872-1954) premiered both ballads at a concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. She also sang the Hymne an die Nacht “Muss immer der Morgen wiederkommen” (Hymn to the Night “Must the Morning Always Return”, RC 50), which is dedicated to her and was conducted by Diepenbrock himself. The performance was a success and Diepenbrock was very pleased with the execution of the ballads, as he told the singer in a letter of thanks (see RC 78).

Another memorable performance of both Mignon and Der König in Thule (RC 78) took place on 26 June 1910 at the three-day music festival organised by the Nederlandsche Toonkunstenaars-Vereeniging (Dutch Society of Musicians) for its 35th annual meeting in the Concertgebouw in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Anke Schierbeek (1878-1960) sang the two songs with the Stedelijke Muziekcorps and the Arnhem Orchestral Society conducted by M.J. Ogier.

Désirée Staverman