The orchestrated version of Diepenbrock’s song Der Abend (The Evening) was performed for the first time on 14 April 1910 at a subscription concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw under the composer. Before the interval Diepenbrock conducted the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Fourth Symphony by Gustav Mahler. After the interval the programme was entirely dedicated to his own works. Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius was the soloist in Der Abend, Lied der Spinnerin (Song of the Spinner, RC 42) and Hymne an die Nacht “Gehoben ist der Stein” (Hymn to the Night “Uplifted is the Stone”, RC 49). The Hymne voor viool en orkest (Hymn for Violin and Orchestra, RC 44) was also performed. For this occasion Diepenbrock had revised the orchestration of the Hymne an die Nacht, and also that of the original version of Der Abend.
Already on 20 September 1908, shortly after completing the piano version of Der Abend (RC 90), Diepenbrock wrote that for the song to come into its own, it needed to be orchestrated. (BD VI:14) He realised this plan – some designations of instruments in autograph A-64(10) already point in this direction – in the course of the autumn of 1908. At the end of October Diepenbrock wrote in a letter to Johanna Jongkindt, to whom he had sent a copy of the song:
Now I am busy orchestrating Der Abend. Don’t you think it is difficult to play? It is impossible for those who are considered a ‘pianist’, I believe. Therefore the orchestra is the only option, although the chances are small that I will hear it in the near future or ever. (BD VI:34)
A year and a half later he was proven wrong.
When revising the orchestration of Der Abend Diepenbrock discarded a great deal in order to make the music more transparent. This was not only influenced by the fact that during this period he was studying the symphonic and vocal works by Mahler, whom he admired (
Now I have all of Gustaaf’s songs, and I am more and more surprised by his immense genius, he wrote on 29 March 1910), as well as the music by Claude Debussy. For example, in 1909 Diepenbrock had made a piano score of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) for study purposes and in January 1910 he had purchased the score of Pelléas et Mélisande.
Der Abend calls for a large wind section: besides Diepenbrock’s favourite duo of oboe d’amore and English horn, it includes 2 clarinets, bass clarinet and 4 horns, resulting in a wide variety of timbres. The horns present the opening motive, while the double basses reinforce the organ point. The woodwinds play solo most of the time, but in the interlude after the third verse (Più vivace, agitato molto) they join forces. In the four measures after the peaceful end of that verse – on the words “ganz stumm” (quite silent) – Diepenbrock collectively makes the dynamics swell to fff, creating a much larger contrast with the preceding section than in the piano version. The sound is intensified even further by the clarinets playing Schalltrichter auf – an effect he derived from Mahler.
The concert on 14 April 1910 was not only a big event for Diepenbrock himself, it was also covered at length in the press. Diepenbrock was disappointed that several critics found that, of the orchestrated songs, the Lied der Spinnerin was to be preferred over Der Abend. He was surprised that the newspaper De Tijd spoke of a
forced depiction of the text and an
obvious contradiction between the words and the music. (BD VI:252)
In February 1915 Der Abend was performed again by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, this time conducted by Willem Mengelberg and with the renowned German soprano Gertrud Förstel. After this concert a number of critics were more impressed by Diepenbrock’s song than by Gustav Mahler’s Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen (Where the Beautiful Trumpets Blow) and Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht (Who Made Up this Little Song), which also featured on the programme. As Matthijs Vermeulen said:
There was too great a contrast between Diepenbrock and Mahler to make any comparison and we can only say in passing that we thought Der Abend was more captivating. The orchestral interlude before “Vöglein euer schwaches Nest” (Little bird your weak nest) is a masterpiece and in none of Mahler’s songs are such universal feelings depicted, presenting in a few measures a complete plot (here a very dramatic one), not even the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), although they are composed from a purely personal perspective. (BD VIII:719)