A month after setting the poem Auf dem See (On the Lake) by Goethe to music, Diepenbrock wrote to his friend W.G. Hondius van den Broek that it had
fascinated him for years. He was clearly pleased with his composition:
Auf dem See also sounds great in barcarolle style (6/8). (BD VI:13) Diepenbrock only mentioned this work one other time in his correspondence: in 1910, when he told Johanna Jongkindt that the sound was
colossal. (BD VII:77)
Like Gleich zu Gleich (Like to Like, RC 85) and Ergo bibamus (Therefore We Drink, RC 93), Auf dem See calls for vocal virtuosity. The work distinguishes itself with its harmonic richness, which requires not only great technical abilities but also excellent intonation, e.g. in the section beginning with the line “Die Welle wieget unsern Kahn” (The wave rocks our punt). The rhythms and movement are more varied than those of the other two songs. Noteworthy is the literal quote at the beginning of the final phrase of Auf dem See of the four chords with which – years ago – Diepenbrock opened Dämmerung (Twilight, RC 7) for mixed choir in 1884. Whether he was aware of this, we do not know.
The Zalsman Quartet did not yet sing Auf dem See at the concert in The Hague in which they premiered Gleich zu Gleich and Wandrers Nachtlied (Wanderer’s Night Song, RC 86). The first performance in the Recital Hall of the Concertgebouw took place a week and a half later, on 31 October 1908. Possibly the singers had taken on too much with the overfull programme (see RC 85), because according to a number of reviews, especially Diepenbrock’s pieces did not come into their own. Daniël de Lange (1841-1918), an expert in the field of a cappella ensemble singing, expressed it as follows in the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag:
The three quartets on texts by Goethe, set to music by Diepenbrock, did not manage to make a great impression. These little works are very, very difficult and, although they had been studied carefully, one got the feeling that the performers did not yet convey the intentions of the composer freely. In places even the intonation left much to be desired. (BD VI:428)
Auf dem See has been performed less often than any of Diepenbrock’s other quartets on texts by Goethe. This may well be because the piece is so demanding.