With great enthusiasm Diepenbrock outlined a remarkable plan in a letter to Balthazar Verhagen of 5 August 1915:
Could you write a beautiful text to enclosed song, popular yet captivating. 2 strophes (Demeter Jambicus Catalecticus)1 of 16 lines. I will then also set it in a popular way for 4-part mixed choir with brass accompaniment, so it can be sung in the Stadium. I know you are very busy, but once you have the melody in your head, the words come spontaneously to you. It would be a great achievement populum accendere cantu.” (BD VIII:496)
Inspiring a mass of people with a song – that was what Diepenbrock wanted to achieve with his composition. A few days later he wrote to Verhagen that, on second thoughts, he was disappointed with both the melody and the accompaniment. (BD VIII:497-498) However, after the poet had provided him with a suitable text (dated 19 August), Diepenbrock sent him a telegram on 21 August with the pithy comment
Exceeds expectation beautiful. (BD VIII:500)
Diepenbrock abandoned the idea of a setting for mixed choir and brass ensemble, instead opting for a version for voice and piano. The melody, of which the first phrase bears great resemblance to the victory march from the second act of Verdi’s Aida, was based on Grétry’s Ô Richard, ô mon roi (O Richard, O My King) from the opera Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard Lion Heart). (BD VIII:498) Diepenbrock maintained the tetrachord motive, of which he at first disapproved, in the accompaniment.2
If necessary, Diepenbrock was prepared to change the rhythm for the benefit of the word accents (BD VIII:498), but that would have caused problems when publishing the composition as not all the strophes could be notated together under one stave. He solved the problem by changing the order of the words within a sentence. For example, he changed “Wij zullen ons ’t hartebloed plengen” (We will shed our lifeblood) into “Ons hartebloed zullen wij plengen” (Our lifeblood we will shed).
Already on 15 September 1915 the Landstormlied (Song of the Home Reserves) was published in the key of A major by S.L. van Looy in Amsterdam. Two months later it was premiered together with Les poilus de l’Argonne (The Soldiers of the Argonne, RC 122) at the ‘Patriotic soirée’ for the anniversary of King Albert I. Composer and pianist Charles Smulders (1863-1934) accompanied Jenny Goovaerts, a singer from Maastricht. They also performed several songs by Smulders as musical accompaniment to the speech he gave that evening titled ‘La psychologie du barbare’ (The Psychology of the Barbarian).
Initially Diepenbrock was sceptical about generating the desired public interest in the Landstormlied.
Although I have already given up the idea that the composition is to be so ultra-popular. Here in Holland everything is difficult, and this song will also be considered complicated. (BD VIII:501)
However, Diepenbrock’s pessimism proved unfounded: soon several folksingers added the Landstormlied to their repertory. On 13 December 1915 it was already performed in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw as part of a programme by the Royal Liedertafel ‘Apollo’ and in 1916 it was even published in the Zangbundel voor het Nederlandsche Leger (Song Book of the Dutch Army). The song was also sung in various music classes until mid-1919, before the peace treaty had been signed. (BD X:109)
The first edition by Van Looy received positive reviews. In the magazine Het Muziekcollege of 16 December 1915 Willem Landré praised the song as follows:
It has a powerful and sturdy melody and an accompaniment that duly adapts itself to the character of the verse and the voice. In short, a song full of enthusiasm, a song of value, yet accessible to everyone. That is what our country has been awaiting for so long. (BD IX:435)
Diepenbrock did not manage to cover the production costs with his Landstormlied, which was the financial result he had hoped to achieve. It took several months and repeated requests, before Van Looy released a version for high voice in C. Diepenbrock was aware of the power of his proud march melody. In April 1917 he therefore investigated the option of realising an Italian counterpart of the text that would be applicable to the situation in Italy. The final phrase “Hef hoog Uwe vaan, dat er geen machten U bedwingen te land en ter zee” (Raise Your banner high, that no forces subdue you on the land and at sea) sung in unison by Italians, as he imagined,
would have a gigantic effect. (BD IX:226) However, this never came about.
Robert Spannenberg & Ton Braas
1 Indicating the metre long-short, with a missing syllable at the end of each line.
2 He had used this walking bass motive consisting of four diatonic descending notes before in the Te Deum (RC 39) and he would do so again in Zegeklanken (Sounds of Victory, RC 127).