Diepenbrock composed his incidental music to Vondel’s Gijsbrecht van Aemstel (RC 108) for Willem Royaards’ production, which was premiered on 25 June 1912, receiving a great deal of attention. After six repeats in 1913, there were several more performances of the Gijsbrecht in the autumn of 1914 and the spring of 1915, all conducted by Diepenbrock.
In the meantime, early in August 1914, the invasion of Belgian and Luxemburg by German troops had marked the start of the First World War. Diepenbrock had been closely following the run-up to the war. On 31 July a close friend wrote in her diary:
Fons is alternatively utterly dejected and extremely agitated, he studies maps, reads or thinks about the ancient Roman wars and despises the barbarians. (BD VIII:360)
At the reprise of Royaards’ production on 20 November 1914, the recent events gave Vondel’s Gijsbrecht an unexpected topical dimension, which Matthijs Vermeulen aptly expressed in the newspaper De Tijd the next day:
Suddenly one notices the realistic foundation of the music, the poetry as well as some frescos of the mise en scène, which all come with shudders that would otherwise be more unfamiliar to us. (BD VIII:697)
His colleague from the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad primarily focussed on the quartet of soloist that did well in the choral songs. He also praised the performance of Simeon’s lofzang (Canticle of Simeon), which since 1912 had been invariably sung by the baritone Gerard Zalsman:
The latter has become the excellent Father Gozewijn in these Gysbreght productions: his clear and beautiful diction, his highly musical, sober, yet warm rendition of the ode to the old Simeon [...]. (BD VIII:696)
While the sung choral songs of Diepenbrock’s incidental music to Gijsbrecht continued to be the topic of much debate – a discussion in which the composer also became involved after the performance of November 1914 (see RC 108) – Gozewijn’s prayer of peace became a popular section that rose above all criticism.
In three four-line strophes Vondel conveys the essence of the prayer, which according to the Gospel of Luke (2:29-32), the old, pious Simeon said in the temple after seeing the Christ Child:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentile and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
(Book of Common Prayer, 1662)
On 5 December 1914 a transcription for low voice and piano of Simeon’s lofzang was published: a facsimile of Diepenbrock’s autograph was added as an appendix to the trial issue of De Nieuwe Amsterdammer.1 In this transcription, which follows the original version of Simeon’s lofzang, the soprano and alto parts (the Poor Clares) have been omitted.
1 The founder of this new weekly, Mr H.P.L. Wiessing (1878-1961), had been the chief editor of De Groene Amsterdammer since 1907. He left there after a conflict. From 1892 to 1894 Wiessing had been a pupil of Diepenbrock at the grammar school in Den Bosch – which was the basis of their friendly relationship which started in September 1910. (BD VII:21)