On 17 March 1882, while Diepenbrock was in his second year at the University of Amsterdam, he suggested defending the proposition “Heine cannot be considered a perfect poet” to the members of the debating society UNICA. However, his fellow students gave him a different topic to discuss that day. (BD I:55) Thus, what Diepenbrock thought of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) back then has not been documented. Over a decade later, Diepenbrock made a similar comment about the German Romantic poet in a letter to Frederik van Eeden. He recalled “the small gem of a poem” Es sang vor langen Jahren (Many Years Ago There Sang, see RC 42) by Clemens Brentano, commenting: “I think this is more beautiful than all Heine put together.” (BD I:437)
Although Diepenbrock clearly did not think much to Heine’s poetry, he was to set three of his ballads to music. Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend (In Twilight the Summer Evening Lies) dates from May 1884. He composed Der Abend kommt gezogen (The Evening Falls, RC 11) that same year and Es war ein alter König (There Was an Old King, RC 25) at the beginning of the summer of 1890.
In Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend Heine describes how dusk descends on woods and meadow, while a golden moon shines in the deep blue sky. Then he takes the reader to a stream where the crickets chirp and a wanderer to his surprise comes across a beautiful elf who is bathing herself. Her white arms and neck are illuminated by the moonshine. The ballad stops here; unlike in Goethe's Der Fischer (see RC 6) the encounter does not lead to the tragic death of the man who was overcome by the sight of a mermaid.
The text inspired Diepenbrock to compose a work with a lyrical vocal part, which often has large leaps, and a harmonically rich piano accompaniment. Diepenbrock wrote this song for his second cousin Christine Driessen in May 1884. Most likely her voice did not have the required range, because copy A-80(3), in which the song is transposed down a whole tone, was also made for her.
When Diepenbrock read through the composition again 25 years later, he was dissatisfied with it and said to Christine:
If I had been permitted, I would have gladly torn it up and returned it to you in an improved version. The song is quite nice, but technically it is very poor, due to the fact I had not received any musical training and the circumstance that, at the time, I did not know anybody who understood music and could advise me. (BD VI:134)
On 12 August 1909 he notated a revised version of the song in a sketchbook. He added six measures, extending the song to 41 measures, and adapted the melody of the voice to the declamation of the text. The harmony of the piano part of this version is more refined.
The song was not published during Diepenbrock’s lifetime. It will not have been sung outside the family; in any case, nothing is known about an official premiere.