Various influences can be found in Verhagen’s Marsyas, of De betooverde bron. In the autumn of 1908 he had become acquainted with Friedrich Nietzsche’s Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music), the philosophical essay which had also meant a lot to Diepenbrock ever since his time as a student. In Verhagen’s adaptation – in the spirit of Nietzsche – of the Marsyas story, the confrontation between the Apollonian and the Dionysian is highlighted. According to a brochure text by Verhagen (BD VII:489), there was another, completely different source of inspiration: a painting entitled Apollo and Marsyas, which in those days was attributed to Raphael.1
Initially Diepenbrock did not get round to looking at the text, which he received at the end of November 1908. Most likely it was not until the next spring that Verhagen reminded his former teacher of it, requesting him to compose music for the comedy. On 24 April 1909 Diepenbrock wrote in a letter that he had enjoyed reading the first two acts. In July he gave Verhagen’s text to Willem Royaards, the director of the theatre company N.V. Het Tooneel, in order to get him interested in the project – so he told the author on a postcard that, as usual, was written in Latin. When Royaards announced at the end of the summer that he wanted to perform the play, Diepenbrock found inspiration and on 8 September 1909 he notated the first sketch of the Prologue. Until mid-February 1910 he was primarily busy writing and then orchestrating the piece. It was only after that, when most of the music had been written, that Diepenbrock wanted to modify the text.
Diepenbrock’s correspondence, in combination with the dates in the autographs, gives a good insight into the history of the genesis of the six-part music for Marsyas. In the first months of 1910 Diepenbrock gave Johanna Jongkindt extensive reports on the progress of the composition. To start with, he explained the title to her on 11 January:
The spring is enchanted because a tear of Marsyas fell into it. This has turned the water into a love potion that works well for everyone except Marsyas himself. That is aptly symbolic for a certain type of people. The anguish of the poet or artist (Marsyas) gives pleasure and enchantment to other people, it is a love potion for them, but it is of no use to him. (BD VI:206)
It becomes clear from Diepenbrock’s letters that this young lady, also a former pupil, was the true source of inspiration for his theatre music.
In three months the Prologue had grown into an extensive orchestral work. On 9 December the composer told the lyricist:
Absolvi hisce diebus partituram prologi symphoniaci (These last days I have completed the score of the symphonic prologue; BD VI:186-187). Only after a first meeting with Verhagen and Royaards later that month, Diepenbrock must have realised that its length was disproportionate to the text, because in the above-mentioned letter to Johanna Jongkindt with instructions how to copy the score of the Prologue, he breaks it up in the following sections:
In the end I cannot use it as it is as the Prologue, but end it at (19), there the introduction finishes. After the first act it starts again at (17) with the accompaniment and Solo flute, in a slightly different register, and that continues as an entr’acte until (50); then the melodrama starts, curtains up and what follows is the accompaniment of the spoken word, etc. (BD VI:205)
This division was in fact carried out, as we can tell from the traces of the erasing knife Diepenbrock used in the piano score, resulting in Prologue (I) and Entr’acte (II), intended as an interlude between the first and second act. (Diepenbrock did not write any music for the first act of Verhagen’s comedy.) When completed, the Prologue (116 measures) and Entr’acte (184 measures) comprise almost half of the score; the Entr’acte is even longer than the overture for De vogels (The birds, RC 140) which Diepenbrock was to write in 1917.
The rest of the work – two short melodramas (III, IV), the prologue to the third act (V) and an extensive finale (VI) consisting of Melodrama, Nymphendans and Apollo’s Epiloog (Melodrama, Dance of the Nymphs and Apollo’s Epilogue) – was written between the end of December 1909 and mid-February 1910. In the piano score that was completed on 17 February, only part III has text to it. The next day Diepenbrock asked Verhagen to add twenty more verses to the epilogue, so the king of the gods can announce that
no heartening cathartic = purifying art can be created if ‘nature’ does not marry ‘culture’. (BD VI:228) Clearly Diepenbrock needed a closing ‘moral’.
Themes and motives
The Marsyas comedy has three main characters: besides the title role and Apollo there is the water nymph Deiopeia who they are fighting over. Each character has its own theme, while other motives represent more abstract concepts. In the Prologue (I), the Entr’acte (II) and the Finale (VI) these motives are set against a lush symphonic backdrop. In contrast, the accompaniment of the sections with text, which is spoken rather than sung (II, III and VI), is restrained.
According to programme notes by Balthazar Verhagen, the Prologue (Andante moderato) is an evocation of a spring morning: the approach of the spring and thus the satyr Marsyas’ awakening from hibernation. (BD VII:532) The music rarely rises above pp, derives its dreamy, static character from a series of organ points. Possibly Diepenbrock was influenced by the impression of nature that opens Mahler’s First Symphony (Langsam. Schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut). In the Prologue several motives are introduced, including – in the clarinet and the bass clarinet – a jolly upward leap followed by a quickly descending, chromatic line. The oboe and English horn play the sad motive bb–g#–a–e, which the composer earmarked as the actual motive for the spring:
The water has got a soul through the tear of the faun. (BD VI:206) Linked to the satyrs and nymphs is a lively figure in the oboes, bassoons and castanets that precedes the entrance of Marsyas, representeded by a four-note motive with an upward leap of a perfect fourth. Finally, the Apollo theme (a monumental chord progression in the horns and harp), which is only alluded to in the Prologue, appears in its entirety in the Epilogue (VI).
Referring to the painting that inspired Verhagen’s story, Diepenbrock described this motive as follows:
I wanted to depict that proud and haughty expression that Raphael has given Apollo in music. (BD VI:207) In 1976 Eduard Reeser said the unusual approach of this idea was one of the most original inventions Diepenbrock used in his Marsyas music:
The theme is actually built up bit by bit as the plot develops. Where the god appears in the flesh, only the first half of the theme is played, each time with a different ending; only in the epilogue the elements of the second half of the theme are gradually developed, but it is not until the postlude that the theme at last appears in its entirety for the first time!2
Timbre and orchestration
Because the financial resources of Royaards’ theatre company were limited, Diepenbrock had to restrict himself to an ensemble of no more than thirty musicians. Of the brass instruments he chose to use only three horns. Nevertheless, the music of Marsyas, of De betooverde bron reveals his fascination for timbre and orchestration. Several years before starting this work, Diepenbrock was already looking for a new orchestral style, partly inspired by his discovery of works such as Salome and Elektra by Richard Strauss (in 1907 and 1910 respectively) and the Seventh Symphony by Mahler (in 1909). But even more important for the music of Marsyas was Diepenbrock’s growing interest in the music by Claude Debussy. In the autumn of 1909 – in other words, after writing down some sketches for Marsyas – Diepenbrock made a piano score of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) for study purposes. This was the first orchestral work by his French contemporary Diepenbrock had heard in 1904. On hearing Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande in March 1907 Diepenbrock was disappointed, but three years later he acknowledged:
Now I have the pocket edition of the orchestral score, I enjoy reading it and absorbing what I can from his orchestration and style. I think I can notice it already. (BD VI:239)
In Diepenbrock’s composition the harp represents the deity, while the satyr is personified by the flute, by analogy with the myth in which Apollo plays the kithara and Marsyas the aulos. The string instruments – which according to ancient Greek views, are at the top of the hierarchy – dominate the Entr’acte (II) in which a motive with a turn (presented con sordino in the violins and violas) forms the basis for a polyphonic texture that gradually unfolds and contains several canonic passages. Unlike the Prologue, this Entr’acte is rich in tempo and character changes within its overall development. A spun out Andante con moto (poco sostenuto) in b minor and a più mosso, poco agitato lead to the appearance of the nymph Deiopeia, with her cantabile theme in E major in the solo violin. At the end of part II there is a long monologue by Marsyas in which he challenges Apollo. The combination of speaking voice and music, which Diepenbrock uses here for the first time, was most likely suggested to him by Willem Royaards.
At times the composer and the lyricist had serious doubts about the success of this joint project. In March 1910 Diepenbrock wrote to Verhagen that the comedy
might work better without the music. (BD VI:242) As late as mid-July Verhagen in turn advised the composer to leave out the music of the Epilogue altogether:
We should also bear in mind that the epilogue is already fairly long and it is drawn out even more by the music. (BD VI:333) Nevertheless, in the neat copy of the score, which was completed that month, Diepenbrock wrote next to the table of contents the optimistic words τῷ τέλει πίστιν φέρων – meaning: having faith in the end (a quote from Sophocles’ Electra).
As Diepenbrock was not really happy with Verhagen’s text, he kept on suggesting alternatives, which his former pupil, as a beginning author, willingly took on board.3 Diepenbrock himself accounted as follows for his intervention in Verhagen’s text:
Please forgive me for meddling so much with your work. You know it is done with twofold good intentions, (in my view) improving it and to help you completing it. I cannot write poems, but as a philologist I am able to criticise details and I believe I can assist to you with this. (BD VI:243)
However, when composing the music for Marsyas, Diepenbrock initially completely ignored the libretto and hardly took the text as such into account, which resulted in the Prologue being disproportionally long. Later the composer constantly wanted to change the text according to his own views. Especially the finale, the Epiloog van Apollo, was to educate the audience morally. In March 1910 Diepenbrock wrote to Verhagen that he considered his setup for the epilogue
too complicated and yet too vague. (BD VI:236) Two weeks later he suggested an alternative text, which was actually used for the performances in the autumn of 1910 and notated in the autograph score. After the premiere Diepenbrock had to admit:
It is true that the music, when it is not accompaniment, has little to do with the play […]. There the myth is the point of departure and not V.’s play. (BD VII:51)
The premiere of Marsyas, of De betooverde bron in the Amsterdam Palace of Industry by N.V. Het Tooneel took place on 4 October 1910. This was followed by eleven more performances with Diepenbrock’s music: six repeats in Amsterdam and the others in Rotterdam, Arnhem, Leiden, The Hague and Haarlem. For this production Willem Royaards envisaged a comprehensive stage setting in the style of the famous German theatre director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943), with whom he had studied. R.N. Roland Holst (1868-1938) was recruited for the scenery and costumes. At Diepenbrock’s request, the rehearsals for the dances of the nymphs were entrusted to two pupils of the Swiss dance innovator Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950). Diepenbrock himself conducted an ensemble consisting of thirty members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The problems that overshadowed the performances of Marsyas, were partly due to the unusual way the work had come about. The critics picked up on the fact that, especially in the long Epilogue – of which the text had been partly written after the music and which was at first declaimed in a too drawn out manner by Royaards – the coordination between the spoken verses and the music was lacking. Daniël de Lange commented in the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag that
Apollo’s moralistic lecture at the end of the work [could] be considered a disappointment. (BD VII:493). According to Gerard Brom in De Opregte Haarlemsche Courant, the coordination problems were caused by the required tempo of speech:
Unfortunately, Apollo’s declamation is tied down to a slow tempo due to the spun out music, to which we can also attribute his boring speech at the end, as the composer asked the writer for a sententious conclusion as a synthesis. (BD VII:499)
In the course of the production Diepenbrock did acknowledged the fundamental problem signalled here, that of the free melodrama offering the performers no support at all, but he was not able to come up with a satisfactory solution, as we can read in a letter he wrote to Johanna Jongkindt after the last performance:
The orchestra played well, there were still a few errors, but overall it was very beautiful. This time Royaards recited the epilogue a lot faster, which made him sound less like moralising, but which resulted in large gaps, because of course he did not pause in the right places. (BD VII:74)
As most of the music critics had no idea about the still almost unknown Dalcroze style of dancing that was being staged, they paid little attention to it. Only the classical scholar Dr J. de Jong deemed in his review in the newspaper Het Vaderland that a shining example had been set:
Here Diepenbrock’s fluent and, in all cheerfulness, distinguished music combined with the light and elegant movements of the highly artistically dressed dancers formed a unity that is not often achieved. How far removed it was from the traditional and outdated opera ballet! I would have liked our opera directors to have been present in order to convince themselves how much beauty can be achieved from a chore[o]graphic point of view with a small number of ballet dancers, when good taste is not marred by convention. The dance of the nymphs that was rehearsed by the ladies A. Beck and M. Adama van Scheltema, pupils of Dalcroze, and excellently performed, will certainly have converted many to the art of Terpsichore. (BD VII:522)
Performance as suite
The fact that nearly all the critics thought that, at the end of the day, the music was the most valuable element of Marsyas, encouraged Diepenbrock to realise a concert performance by the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Already in February 1911 the composer conducted the orchestra twice in the Voor-, tussen- en naspelen uit Marsyas, of De betooverde bron (Prologues, Interludes and Postludes from Marsyas, or The Enchanted Spring), thus laying the basis for the orchestral suite, which has been performed regularly ever since and which was published in 1927.
Matthijs Vermeulen was the critic who was most involved in the music for Marsyas. At the age of 22 he experienced the premiere of October 1910 as
a heavenly sensation.4 His first extensive reflection on the work in the newspaper De Tijd caught Diepenbrock’s attention. In collaboration with the composer, Vermeulen then turned this article into a thorough analysis of the music of Marsyas with more than twenty music examples for the weekly magazine De Amsterdammer. (BD VII:510-519) In the newspaper Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant Vermeulen described the audience’s enthusiasm for the composition after the first concert performance on 16 February 1911 as follows:
It was like an ovation and this means a new triumph for this form of art, which is closely related to the French movement, although highly individualised. The composition, which is descriptive throughout, including even the prologues, has proved to be equally fascinating in the concert hall as in Roland Holst’s Arcadian atmosphere of trees, spring, springtime and light. The reason for this must be that Diepenbrock has succeeded in condensing the sentiment of Balthazar Verhagen’s comedy, of place and action, so brilliantly in sound – orchestrally, motivically as well as harmonically. The opulent nature of the budding forest (entr’acte), sounding in broad violin melodies, is felt so intensively and so skilfully arranged that whenever I hear it, I smell the forest and the flowers; the dance of the nymphs is designed so delicately that the grace and melody in itself are a delight [...]. (BD VII:535)
1 The panel, which is most likely by Perugino, was acquired by the Louvre in 1883. See F. Haskell, ‘A Martyr of Attributionism: Morris Moore and the Louvre Apollo and Marsyas’, in Past and Present in Art and Taste. Selected Essays (New Haven: Yale U.P. 1987), 155-174.
2 E. Reeser, ‘Marsyas, of De betooverde bron’, programme notes in Ouverture 11/2 (1976), 33.
3 Afterwards Verhagen considered the text used in the performances of 1910 superseded. For the piano score that was published in 1922, he wrote an entirely new text for Apollo’s Epiloog.
4 Letter to Thea Diepenbrock d.d. 24-07-1945; see Ton Braas, Door het geweld van zijn verlangen. Een biografie van Matthijs Vermeulen (Amsterdam 1997), 40.