The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 with its relentless destruction and reign of terror made Diepenbrock seriously concerned about the fate of his former lover Johanna Jongkindt. In order to break away from their affair that was going nowhere, she had married the US-born painter Joseph (Joe) Raphael (1869-1950) in May 1911. Since then she and her family were living in the village of Uccle near Brussels. Despite the attempts Diepenbrock made in September 1914 to gather information about her through her parents and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he remained uncertain about her situation for a long time. Eventually, he received a reassuring letter from her on 6 October. After that it was only possible for them to have occasional contact.
At the beginning of November 1915 Diepenbrock wrote the Berceuse for violin and piano for Cathrien, Johanna’s daughter who was then seven years old. Cathrien was having violin lessons from a neighbour, the former monk Henri van Hecke, who had written an easy piece for violin and piano for his pupil. On 30 September Johanna had sent Diepenbrock a postcard with the first fourteen measures, also copying the dedication by Van Hecke: “Berceuse dédiée à ma chère petite élève Catherine Raphael, pour l’encourager dans le travail de son violon qu’elle poursuit si bien.” (
Berceuse dedicated to my dear little pupil Catherine Raphael, to encourage her in her work on the violin which she pursues so well, BD IX:16) There is some mockery in Diepenbrock’s answer of 4 October: he would have preferred a postcard
with words by you rather than with music by the Benedictine. At the end of his letter he returns to the topic:
Does the little Cathrien still know me? Shall I also write a short piece for her on a postcard? Won’t it make the Benedictine jealous? (BD IX:17-18)
A month later, on 2 November, he set to work and it was not long before he sent her 22 measures of his Berceuse for violin and piano, notated on two staves. Above them he wrote:
Berceuse to rock the little Liesbeth [Johanna’s daughter who was born in April 1914] asleep when she does not want to sleep, for the little Cathrien, written by Uncle Fons. (BD IX:22)
As there was not enough space left for the remaining measures, he added:
I will notate the violin piece – it contains 38 measures – on 2 postcards and on three staves. Music paper in an open envelope is surely not allowed. (BD IX:23)
The latter remark refers to the German censorship of the post to Belgium; it was feared that music notation might contain secret codes.
The Berceuse, which is written in 4/8 metre, has the tempo indication Andantino. A simple violin part is set to a harmonically interesting piano accompaniment. The work has been transmitted in its entirety in a copy Thea Diepenbrock made in the 1930s of the autograph that was in the possession of the Raphael-Jongkindt family.