RC 14 Meinacht (“Ik zag in ’t grondloos blauw de sterren vonken”)

  • Swarth, Hélène ()
  • contralto and piano
  • August 17, 1885
  • duration 3:20

Diepenbrock does not mention the sonnet Meinacht (May Night) anywhere in his letters. It was written by Hélène Swarth (1859-1941) in memory of the poet Jacques Perk, who died at a young age. Diepenbrock set one of his poems, Avondzang (Evening Song, RC 13), to music in April 1885. In his correspondence Diepenbrock does not say a word about the literary qualities of Hélène Swarth.

In the months before Diepenbrock wrote Meinacht, he was feeling downcast about his composing, according to a letter from a good friend dated 18 July 1885: Sadly, he does not appear to gain much pleasure from his music, he wrote about it very briefly and rather despondently. It is a shame, because I believe he had high hopes for it. (BD I:102) By writing this song, Diepenbrock got over his negative feelings.

The theme of sultry nocturnal nature, “full of the scent of jasmines” and the declamatory treatment of the vocal part is in keeping with his earlier songs. The composition follows the form of the sonnet. The quatrains and the second tercet are based on the same material. In a brief interlude before the first tercet Diepenbrock uses word-painting; the piano imitates the characteristic song of the nightingale which is then mentioned in the text. The three closing lines reveal the ‘message’ of the poem:

Mij drong die vogelzang door ziel en zinnen.
Uw vleug’len zanger, mocht ik vaak benijden,
Doch tienmaal meer uw lied van liefdelijden.

(That birdsong pierced my heart and soul.
Your wings, singer, I often envied,
But tenfold more your song of heartbreak.)

Kitty Kuiper, to whom Meinacht is dedicated, is a sister of Diepenbrock’s friend E.T. (Esgo) Kuiper (1862-1924). Her name is not mentioned in Diepenbrock’s correspondence, but it is likely that the final passage of a letter from Diepenbrock to Esgo, dated 1 August 1885, is about her: Do not forget to send my best wishes to your family and when you see a pair of turquoise blue eyes, look deep [into] them and do not make any plans! (BD I:103)

Diepenbrock’s Meinacht has only been transmitted in one semi-autograph; the copy of the song which must have contained the dedication to Kitty Kuiper, has been lost. As far as we know this composition was never performed during Diepenbrock’s lifetime.

Robert Spannenberg