The poetry of Jacques Perk (1859-1881), whose oeuvre was published by Willem Kloos a year after his untimely death, was of great importance for Diepenbrock as a composer. In 1910 he wrote in a retrospective:
In Perk’s sonnets I saw that the Dutch language could compete with the French and the German not only in plasticity but also in musicality, and that they could be set to music and sung just as well as the sonnets by Dante, Petrarca and Goethe. (VG:334)1
Nevertheless, only two poems by Perks were set to music by Diepenbrock: Avondzang (Evening Song, 1885) and Zij sluimert (She Slumbers, RC 51, 1900).
Diepenbrock’s surviving correspondence contains no information about or references to the genesis of Avondzang; there is no documentation on the revision of March 1896 either. The intimate, dreamlike atmosphere of the sonorous poem (for the most part Perk used voiced consonants) about a peaceful encounter with a lover, would have appealed to him.
The setup of the song is simpler than that of Diepenbrock’s other early songs for tenor: a lyrical melody (never louder than a brief two-measure mf) in the voice in quiet 12/8 time above a harmonically rich piano part, which occasionally presents a countermelody.
In 1905 Avondzang was published by A.A. Noske together with nine other songs. When correcting the proofs, Diepenbrock received a lot of help from Johanna Jongkindt (1882-1945), who carefully went through the piano parts. Of all the songs in this edition, the composer chose to dedicate Avondzang to her, because of
the text, which contains an indirect declaration of love. (BD VIII:356) In the edition a German translation has been printed beneath the Dutch text. This translation by F. du Pré (trombonist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra who also frequently worked as a copyist) was authorised by Diepenbrock.
Even though the song was available in print and had been premiered in Germany, curiously, Diepenbrock never heard it performed, not even in the orchestration of 1903 (RC 59). He considered its quality to be inferior to that of Zij sluimert. Nevertheless, he considered Avondzang music
of which nobody can tell how it will sound and what incredible passion it can convey when sung by a true singer, such as Urlus. (BD VIII:356)
Through mediation of the writer H.J. (Hein) Boeken, an Italian translation was made in 1917 by Pietro Mariatti (1877-after 1926), a linguist who resided in the Netherlands during the First World War.
1 Diepenbrock made this statement in a draft version of his contribution ‘To Willem Kloos’ for the Gedenkboek 1885 – 1 October – 1910 (Chronicles 1885 - 1 October - 1910) of De Nieuwe Gids; see VG:332-338 and 408 (footnote to no. 56).