Inspired by the young Dutch soprano Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius, Diepenbrock composed Gehoben ist der Stein (Uplifted is the Stone) for her in the first half of 1899. It is one of the Hymnen an die Nacht (Hymns to the Night) by the German early Romantic poet Novalis, a pseudonym for Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801). Unlike the earlier song for soprano and piano Hinüber wall’ ich (I Pilgrimage Over There, RC 37) on a poem from the same collection, Diepenbrock directly conceived the new work with orchestral accompaniment. He started the work on 20 January and completed a piano score version on 4 March. He finished the instrumentation two months later, on 4 May. Diepenbrock’s letters from that time do not say anything about the creative process.
Novalis’ Hymnen an die Nacht were written when the poet was overwhelmed by the unexpected death of his young lover. In seven rhyming stanzas of eight lines each, Gehoben ist der Stein describes the purifying influence the infinite starry sky can have, thus elevating it to a Christian-pantheistic symbol of the abolition of the division between mortal existence and immortality.
Novalis opens with a poetic description of the dogma that through the resurrection of Christ, who at the Last Supper offered his body and blood, mankind partakes in eternal life, symbolised by a wedding that is brightly lit by oil lamps with fuel that never runs out. Death summons us to that feast; the twinkling stars in the distance beckon. In the third and fourth strophes Novalis addresses Mary, describing how those who once turned to her on the verge of death, now watch over us as children of heaven. The poet feels wrapped in their protective embrace when he says: “Wir kommen nun zu ihnen, / Um ewig da zu sein.” (Now we come to you, / To remain there forever.) So, according to the fifth and sixth strophes, the believer feels no grief at the grave, comforted in the knowledge that his beloved has passed into eternal life. Intoxicated by the golden wine in which the firmament dissolves, we ourselves will become lighting stars. The mystic rapture reaches a climax in the final strophe that mentions the passing into the full, timeless life that swirls as an endless sea. Just one night of this overwhelming bliss, an eternal poem, makes us realise that the countenance of God is the sun of us all.
Leading motive: transition from death to life
As a sounding symbol of the idea of the transition from death to life, Diepenbrock built the composition on one motive consisting of five notes that descend step by step, which – according to his annotation at the beginning of piano score A-41(9) – he derived from the final measures of the “Et sepultus est” from the Credo of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis.
In the orchestral introduction this ‘interment motive’ of descending seconds initially dominates the musical discourse, but already in measures 4, 6, 8 and 9 there is a variation with an upward movement at the end. From the upbeat to m. 18, a complete melody in which the ascending second quickly develops into a diminished-seventh leap is played as counterpoint. Then two measures with just the ‘interment motive’ make room for the redeeming opening words:
The voice starts with an ascending fifth and rises another minor second – a movement that continues in the second line. The upward movement continues in the following lines. After the repetition of seven measures from the introduction, comes the second half of the first verse.
Four measures form the transition to the second strophe. The melody of both “Zur Hochzeit ruft der Tod” (To the wedding Death does call) and “Die Lampen brennen helle” (The lamps burn brightly), as well as that of the following line is characterised by an upward fourth leap and a descending broken triad in a firm crotchet motion. The emotionally contrasting music of the second half of this verse
is built on a motive from the orchestral introduction that deviates from the diatonic semitone steps, using an accentuated rhythm to enforce an unexpected forte character.
In the section that addresses Mary, beginning with the words
Diepenbrock moves from 4/4 time to 6/4 time, giving the music (Zart und fliessend) a rocking character. Against chromatic lines in the low register of the orchestra, the high instruments play melodic garlands, accompanying the voice like musical incense up to the words “Um ewig da zu sein” (To remain there for ever). There the movement stops, to be replaced by the aureole of a beautiful chord progression that accompanies the phrase.
Then a ‘sublimated’ reprise of the opening measures of the composition leads up to the fifth strophe: “Nun weint an keinem Grabe / Vor Schmerz, wer liebend glaubt.” (Now at no grave weeps / for sorrow any who love and pray.) A free translation of the music of the first verse follows, still in 6/4 time. On the final syllable of the fifth strophe the music returns to 4/4 time. An interlude with long melodic lines introduces the sixth strophe, which without interruption leads to the beginning of the seventh and last verse. Meanwhile, the music becomes more and more ecstatic and after the words “Es wogt das volle Leben / Wie ein unendlich Meer” (The whole life surges / as an endless sea) this is expressed – according to the score “mit grösster Begeisterung” – by the orchestra for eight measures. The descending second motive from the beginning of the composition returns on the final lines “Und unser aller Sonne / Ist Gottes Angesicht” (And the sun we all share / Is the countenance of God). The orchestral postlude harks back to the introduction as well, now also with reminiscences to the earlier variations of this motive.
Structurally the composition can be subdivided into an exposition (verses 1-2), a contrasting middle movement (verses 3-4) and a free reprise (verses 5-7). Metrically the first part of the reprise (verse 5) is linked to the preceding middle movement. Thus Diepenbrock manages to express the contrast in Novalis’ text between the reality of being dead and buried (“et sepultus est”) and the prospect of eternal redemption, concentrated in the words “Gehoben ist der Stein”, in the musical structure and he prevents the middle movement from being an isolated part within the composition as a whole.
Performances and revised orchestration
The premiere of the Hymne an die Nacht “Gehoben ist der Stein” took place in the Centre of Arts and Sciences in The Hague on 27 June 1900 at the end of the third festive concert of the Nederlandsche Toonkunstenaars-Vereeniging (Dutch Musician’s Union). The concert with Aaltje Noordewier and the Concertgebouw Orchestra was also Diepenbrock’s debut as a conductor. The reviews were positive about both the novelty and the performance by the singer and orchestra conducted by the composer.
Diepenbrock ended up conducting the Amsterdam premiere on 6 December 1900 as well, although this was not planned. On the morning of the concert Willem Mengelberg suddenly fell ill and Diepenbrock was asked to immediately take over the dress rehearsal for the concert, at which also the hymn for alto and orchestra Muss immer der Morgen wiederkommen (Must the Morning Always Return, RC 50) was to be premiered. Physically he was not used to conducting demanding pieces and he suffered from bad muscle ache. The hymn for alto was part of the first half of the programme and went well. Although his right arm had been massaged during the interval, it soon became overexerted and Diepenbrock had to continue with his left hand. According to the entry in the diary of Elisabeth, this had an unexpected effect:
at the end [...] he only indicated the first beat, so the final fanfare of the brass got such freedom of declamation that it made a fantastic impression. It sounded entirely improvised and yet perfect. We will never hear it like that again. (BD III:248)
After an expertly conducted performance by Mengelberg on 31 January 1901, Diepenbrock informed Smulders in all honesty:
At last the glowing and expanding sound was brought out, which I had tried to realise in vain. (BD III:265)
Thanks to the affinity Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius showed for the piece, Diepenbrock’s Auferstehungshymne soon became famous and was frequently performed. For example, it was played on 6 September 1912 at an invitation concert of a congress of life insurers (VIIe Congrès International d’Actuaires) and again in the Concertgebouw in October.
In preparation for a printed edition of his main works that Diepenbrock was planning, for which on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday he had received a fair amount of money from friends, he made a new orchestration for Gehoben ist der Stein in December 1914. On 10 February 1915 he completed the score. He also made a new piano score for publication, like he had done for the hymn for alto that had already gone into production. In order to make it easy to play, not every orchestral part was to be included:
no more in the old way (Wagner, Zweers), […] less dense, more nuance, at the same time more accompaniment and orchestrally more independent. (BD VIII:473) Diepenbrock was so negative about the original orchestration that he destroyed the orchestral parts. Therefore it was impossible to organise a performance by the German soprano Gertrud Foerstel at short notice, as a letter to Mengelberg shows. (BD VIII: 437) Eventually, the edition of the Auferstehungshymne was only published posthumously.
“Nil mortale sonans”
In November 1917 Diepenbrock immensely enjoyed a performance by the Arnhem Orchestral Society conducted by Richard Heuckeroth. Critic P.A. van Westrheene praised Diepenbrock’s polyphony of
shining […] sometimes for an instant almost too bright a brilliance of colour, of eagerness and of peaceful delight. Once again Noordewier made a huge impression:
The sound of the last words: “Und unser aller Sonne / Ist Gottes Angesicht” was as the Unfathomable Light. (BD IX:572)
However, the highlight in the performance history of Gehoben ist der Stein was the concert Diepenbrock conducted himself in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on 14 November 1918. Already during rehearsals he characterised Noordewier’s interpretation as
nil mortale sonans – nothing mortal sounds here. The Auferstehungshymne was the finale of the programme. The press was unanimously lyrical. Matthijs Vermeulen reported:
Did we ever hear Noordewier more radiant, more youthful, more inspired, more mystically moved by the supernatural spirit of poetry and melodies? Has a heavenly bliss ever affected us more quickly and suddenly than through her dedicated and inspired enthusiasm, from “Zur Hochzeit ruft der Tod”, the gradually more vehement and profound ecstasy of this towering eternity and of this real, literal transfiguration? I do not remember. I cannot recall such intense emotions, such happy panoramas as this unprecedented glimpse of eternal life, this revelation of hymnic joy. I only know that we were carried away by an orchestra that sang all the way through, by an artist who imposed her soul on us, by a conducting composer who allowed himself to be led by the prophetic enthusiasm of its performer. And I only know that we have never heard Noordewier with such an excellent sound, with such overwhelming psyche. So the ovations for Diepenbrock were very long, very warm and seldom will they have been given more spontaneously. (BD X:414-415)
Jaap van Benthem & Ton Braas