As mentioned under RC 30, Diepenbrock’s Rey van clarissen (Choral Song of the Poor Clares) and Rey van Amsterdamsche maegden (Choral Song of the Amsterdam Virgins) were written in the same period: 4 June to 7 and 18 July 1893 respectively. The trigger to compose these works was reading the music Bernard Zweers had written for Vondel’s play Gijsbrecht van Aemstel. This was clearly a case of emulation: Diepenbrock considered it a challenge to write a better setting of the choral songs than Zweers, as we can read in a letter to Antoon Derkinderen of 12 June 1893:
I was not commissioned to write the Choral Songs, but just because I was ashamed of the music being so inferior to the poetry, I immediately […] set to work. He explained the set-up of the Rey van Amsterdamsche maegden as follows:
I turned it into a kind of weapon dance and a rhythmic victory song for the Amsterdam Walküren. The virgins have become very dynamic. The accompaniment is by 4 clarinets, written in the middle (shawm) register, and a harp. (BD I:465-466)
The Rey van Amsterdamsche maegden is a six-strophe song of joy, sung by the young women in celebration of the victory over the besiegers of the city. It is also a summons for a twofold feast in honour of the victors and the birth of Christ. (For a synopsis of Gijsbrecht van Aemstel, see RC 28.)
Diepenbrock’s description of his composition as “a kind of weapon dance and a rhythmic victory song for the Amsterdam Walküren” is a bit too graphic. However, his music is certainly spirited, due to the frequent use of a punctuated rhythm on the second crotchet in the 6/4 metre and the overall upward movement of the melodies. Where the text refers to the violation of women, the reason for the grim battle, Diepenbrock changes the timbre by deviating to the b Phrygian mode. The mood changes back to proud and defiant when the virgins mockingly ask where the dangerous enemy that beleaguered the city, has gone.
In a letter to Charles Smulders of 20 March 1894 Diepenbrock explains his reason for the unusual combination of four clarinets and harp for the accompaniment of the Rey van Amsterdamsche maegden. At the beginning of January Diepenbrock had visited the Maastricht-born composer at his home in Liège and left the scores of the two choral songs behind for him to look at. For this choral song (“a delightful piece of music, and set very beautifully for female coir”) Smulders advised Diepenbrock to use an ensemble consisting of all woodwinds, including the English horn, the bass clarinet and the contrabassoon, and a second harp:
That would already provide many colours. (BD II:131) Diepenbrock approved of the idea of two harps, but he disagreed with the other advice:
I did not have a stronger orchestration of wind instruments in mind, as I wanted to give it a floating, drifting character with high silvery accents and I believe that this would be lost with bass clarinet and bassoons. It was my intention that the Choral Songs, when performed well, would fit the framework of the spoken drama like a mural in a building. Like in the painting, in the composition this aim excludes depth. It is for this reason that I intended a certain neutrality or uniformity of colour in the orchestration. (BD II:162)
It took another two and a half years for Diepenbrock to change his mind and rearrange the choral song for full symphonic accompaniment.
Complete revision and premiere
The new score was completed on 22 June 1896. Criticism by both Smulders and Zweers resulted in a complete revision in 1897 of all three ‘orchestral choral songs’. The Rey van Amsterdamsche maegden was finished on 16 April that year.
On 27 April 1898 this version of the work was premiered in the Concert Hall of the Sociëteit “Vereeniging” in Haarlem by the city’s Toonkunst Choir and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Willem Robert (1848-1914). The result was disappointing (see RC 30).
In September 1901, when the Rotterdam conductor George Rijken and his Mixed Choir were preparing a performance of the Rey van Amsterdamsche maegden and the Rey van edelingen in the city’s concert hall De Doelen, Diepenbrock happened to be busy working on a new orchestration. He wanted this new version to be played at the upcoming concert, “as in the old one the voices of the choir are less pronounced and it is less colourful”. (BD III:303) This time, in order to create better conditions for the interpretation of his score, Diepenbrock made sure the orchestra – the Utrecht City Orchestra – studied the work under its regular conductor Wouter Hutschenruyter beforehand. He also conducted a rehearsal himself. He ecstatically reported to Smulders:
Yesterday I conducted the rehearsal of the new orchestration of my Choral Songs in Utrecht. It sounded beautiful. At last I have sort of learnt how to orchestrate. (BD III:325)
However, this performance was also a disappointment; see the description of the Rey van edelingen (Choral Song of the Noblemen, RC 33).