Puisque l’aube grandit (Since Dawn Awoke) is the fourth song Diepenbrock wrote on a text by Paul Verlaine. The poem is from the collection La bonne chanson (The Good Song) that had been given to Diepenbrock, together with eight other Verlaine editions, by his friend W.G. Hondius van den Broek on 19 June 1908. The composer did not mention in his correspondence why he chose this specific poem. The only thing he wrote was:
It is a peculiar poem […] but its opening words are so beautiful. (BD VI:128) Presumably Diepenbrock – who was frequently troubled by doubts and melancholic feelings himself – was attracted by the cheerful vitality and optimism the text expresses. At the break of day Verlaine ruefully bans all dire thoughts and dispels his bad dreams. From now on, together with a new lover who has brought light and clarity, he wants to follow a straight path through life, without being hindered by obstacles and setbacks.
Diepenbrock turned Verlaine’s grand verses of twelve and thirteen syllables into a captivating song with long climaxes, great dynamic nuances and a frequent use of punctuated rhythms. Diepenbrock’s setting of the strophe in which the poet puts an end to his vindictive aggression and renounces the search for oblivion in drinking sprees, is remarkably strong, not in the least because of the independence of the piano part with a contrary rhythm in the bass.
The changes of key in this song are functional. In the fourth strophe, in which the reason for the drastic transformation is given (“Car je veux, maintenant q’un Être de lumière” – For it is my wish now that a Being of light), the key of A-flat major forms a strong contrast to the preceding key of A major, as well as to the following key of D major, the main key of the song. Amidst chord progressions based on the circle of fifths, there are two thirds relationships here, resulting in the succession of A-flat, E6, A with added sixth, D9, G, E-flat6, a-flat minor with added sixth, D-flat9, G-flat, g half diminished. Meanwhile, like so often in Diepenbrock’s songs, the piano ‘sings’ a melody of its own. The septuplet that is used, is characteristic of the rhythmic flexibility Diepenbrock aimed for in his complete oeuvre.
Commission, premiere and printed edition
The song was written for and has been dedicated to the French mezzo-soprano Julie Cahen, the wife of the principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Gérard Hekking (1879-1942), who for some time called himself Hekking-Denancy after the town of Nancy where he was born. In June 1908 the Diepenbrocks had welcomed Hekking and his wife in their home, where Julie enthusiastically sang Les chats (The Cats, RC 68). Diepenbrock called her “an excellent singer, a true French declaimer”. (BD VI:128) Together with Evert Cornelis, she premiered Puisque l’aube grandit and Mandoline (Mandolin, RC 99) – which is also dedicated to her – in the Recital Hall of the Concertgebouw on 23 November 1909. However, as the singer was not feeling well, the performance fell short of expectations. (BD VI:178) Half a year later Diepenbrock also showed the song to Gerard Zalsman. It immediately appealed to him, as we can read in the diary of Elisabeth Diepenbrock:
Yesterday evening Zalsman sang Puisque l’aube grandit here very beautifully and it sounded surprisingly captivating by a man, while we had only heard it by Mrs Hekking. (BD VI:294)
On 5 October 1910 the song was published by A.A. Noske, together with Diepenbrock’s Recueillement (Contemplation, RC 79) and Der Abend (The Evening, RC 90). Zalsman was one of the people to receive a presentation copy from Diepenbrock. He regularly sang the work at song recitals.
The Hungarian alto/mezzo-soprano Ilona Durigo (1881-1943) played an important role in the performance history of Puisque l’aube grandit. On 14 October 1911 she premiered Die Nacht (The Night, RC 106) under Willem Mengelberg. At the matinee the following day the piece was played again, this time conducted by Evert Cornelis (1884-1931). That evening Durigo sang Mandoline and Puisque l’aube grandit prima vista, accompanied by Diepenbrock at the composer’s home. She really impressed Diepenbrock, especially with the latter song:
She sings that song with an incredible passion, and carries me away so much that I play it very well, something I am not capable of otherwise either. Durigo included both songs in her repertory.
In July 1916 Diepenbrock orchestrated Puisque l’aube grandit (see RC 130).