Albert Verwey (1865-1937) belonged to Diepenbrock’s close circle of friends that studied Greek and Latin or Dutch language and literature at the University of Amsterdam. Together with Willem Kloos, Frederik van Eeden and Marxist theorist Frank van der Goes, Verwey founded De Nieuwe Gids (The New Guide) in 1885. From March1891 Diepenbrock contributed to this two-monthly magazine for language and literature, art, politics and science. After receiving the first edition (of October 1885) with excerpts from a large-scale poem without rhyme which Verwey had written already in 1883, and four sonnets by Kloos, Diepenbrock complimented the latter in the following, characteristic way:
Be prepared that you and Verwey will receive the necessary strokes of the cane from the official ‘critics’. I would like to congratulate you in advance on that prospect. (BD I:108)
From the volume Persephone en andere gedichten (Persephone and Other Poems), published by Verwey in 1885, Diepenbrock decided to turn the sonnet Maanlicht (Moonlight) into a song. According to the only surviving source, it was written in a single day, on 25 November 1885. Like in several of his earlier compositions, the intoxication by nocturnal nature is almost tangible in the text. Verwey’s poem is an ode to the beloved: even more so than the delight in the scent of flowers “in the mild moonlit midnight”, it is the thought of “the petite one which I call mine”, which has a hold on the first person narrator – she is both “starlight and floral splendour”. The poet rises to the silent stars in a dream and a recollection. The final lines are: “En met ontloken lippen zwijg ik / in mijner minne mijmering.” (And with budded lips I remain silent / in my romantic reverie.) Verwey’s sonorous poetry was well received by Diepenbrock, as a comment on two other poems, published in 1887, shows:
I think these vocal sonnets one of his best, if not his best genre. (BD I:121)
The sonnet form of Maanlicht is reflected in the composition: Diepenbrock uses the opening melody of the voice for the beginning of the second strophe too (see mm. 10-13). However, the piano goes from a melodic quaver movement to a more figurative semiquaver movement. In the third strophe the vocal part has predominantly consecutive seconds, with the exception of the descending octave leap f#2-f#1 on the word “herinnering” (recollection) which thus refers to “middernacht” (midnight, m. 5) and “bloembed” (flower bed, m. 13). After a four-measure interlude, the two final lines are set to a variant of the opening melody, making this one of the few songs that has a circular form. Particularly remarkable are the descending minor seconds on the word “mijmering” (reverie), which may well be a reference to the love motive in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.
Like Meinacht (May Night, RC 14), Maanlicht was never performed in public during Diepenbrock’s lifetime. The work was not published until 1951. It has not been documented why Meinacht was not included in A.A. Noske’s series of songs of 1905, which contained four settings of Dutch sonnets. A consideration may have been that in De Nieuwe Gids of December 1885 Willem Kloos spoke quite unfavourably of this poem and that Verwey himself did not select Maanlicht for his Verzamelde Gedichten (Collected Poems, 1889, published by W. Versluys in Amsterdam) either.
Robert Spannenberg & Ton Braas