RC 51 Zij sluimert (“Zij rust in ’t malsche mos en houdt gebogen”)

  • Perk, Jacques ()
  • tenor and piano
  • March 27, 1900
  • duration ca. 5:00

In the course of 1900 Diepenbrock’s Hymne voor viool en piano (Hymn for Violin and Piano, RC 48) and the two symphonic Novalis songs Gehoben ist der Stein (Uplifted is the Stone, RC 49) and Muss immer der Morgen wiederkommen (Must the Morning Always Return, RC 50) were premiered. However, Diepenbrock only added one composition to his oeuvre that year: Zij sluimert (She Slumbers) for tenor and piano on a sonnet by Jacques Perk.

Zij sluimert is the second poem by Perk that Diepenbrock set to music, fifteen years after Avondzang (Evening Song, 1885, RC 13). A letter to Hondius van den Broek from December 1906 shows us how much Diepenbrock admired Perk, whom he rated higher than the Dutch poets Herman Gorter and Willem Kloos:

Indeed, in my eyes Perk is the only Dutch poet. For me his Sonnets have something universal that I do not even find in “Mei”. (May by Herman Gorter) […] Compared to Perk, Kloos is what the rhetorician Schiller is to Goethe (to me). I hope I will some day manage to put together a cycle of Sonnets by Perk and turn them into one work for voice and orchestra. I have had plans for Zij sluimert for 15 years. What a great “Beethovenish” Intermezzo one could make in between those love songs of “the viol sings where ... and ivy vines”.1 (BD V:275-276)

The theme of Zij sluimert is mortality. With closed eyes the lover is resting in the woods, under a cover of green shadows. Thoughts go through her mind that make her softly sigh and smile. But in that slumber the poet suddenly sees a premonition of death: the lover will not wake up again and will never open her eyes; no ray of sun or birdsong will be able to wake her.

Diepenbrock symbolises the morbid turn of the poem by the transformation of a motive that is first played dolce by the right hand of the piano at the word "oogen" in the third line of the second quatrain (mm. 28-29) and that in the two tercets frequently comes to the fore in the piano accompaniment, increasingly threatening when it is played three times consecutively in the bass register (mm. 44-47).

In a letter to Charles Smulders from 6 June 1900 Diepenbrock said this composition was a mere trifle compared to the Novalis Hymnen. (BD III:216) However, two years later he confided to J.C. Hol: To a certain extent I consider Zij sluimert my best song. He ends the disclosure, in which Christus is opgestanden (Christ Has Risen, RC 57) is also mentioned, with one short sentence: Both of these things are alive and have depth. (BD IV:49) In his next letter to Hol, Diepenbrock explained what the two pieces meant to him: music that can cheer me op at bad moments. (BD IV:60)

Similar statements can also be found in Elisabeth Diepenbrock’s diary entry of 26 March 1906:

Yesterday evening Fons played Novalis’ Abendmahlshymne (Hymn of the Last Supper) to Lien and then Perk’s Sonnet: Zij sluimert. He considers this his best song and explained how the Life motive, entering for the first time at “Straks opent zij haar oogen” (Soon she will open her eyes), transforms through thematic changes into a Death motive. “This general symbolism has become possible thanks to Wagner,” he says. (BD V:117)

Diepenbrock orchestrated Perk’s Avondzang (RC 59) and Zij sluimert (RC 60) in 1903. However, the idea of a cycle never reached fruition.

Robert Spannenberg

1 Diepenbrock is clearly quoting Perk’s sonnet Dorpsdans (Village Dance, also from the cycle Mathilde) off by heart, as the beginning of the poem is: “The viol sings, where the rose and vines of the woodbine / amorously embrace the farmer’s house.”