In the Chanson du petit hypertrophique (Song of the Little Hypertrophic) by Jules Laforgue (1860-1887) a morbidly fat boy is portrayed, with a yellow face and unsteady step, the laughing-stock of the street. He is secretly in love but realises that, like his mother, he will die young. He thinks that the pounding of his heart is her enticing voice. Diepenbrock read the wry text in an article in the cultural and literary magazine De Kroniek of 18 August 1895. The article was a response to the publication of some letters and unknown works by the symbolist poet Jules Laforgue in the French literary and arts magazine La Revue blanche. Diepenbrock greatly admired Laforgue,
the contemplative Hamlet searching for
the criterion of human certainty.1 (VG:65) His setting of the poem, dated 22 August 1895, appeared as an appendix to the 25 August edition of De Kroniek.
The strophic song with simple accompaniment, which is consistent with the folk-like character of the text, stands alone among Diepenbrock’s compositions of his early period. The composer envisioned a rendition in the style of the famous songster Yvette Guilbert, whom he had heard during a visit to Paris in 1891. He wrote:
It should not be sung. It is more like a lugubrious cabaret ditty with very poignant words. The music is nothing, it contains the absolute minimum of music and that was the difficulty. (BD III:192)
1 This profile of Laforgue is from Diepenbrock’s article ‘Schemeringen’, published in De Nieuwe Gids of August 1893.