File 15 of the Diepenbrock archive contains a loose leaf with fifteen measures for voice and piano. It bears no date. At some point Diepenbrock has carefully crossed out the title De torens (The Towers) and the text of this fragment of song. By means of a scan made by the Technical Investigation Services, Eduard Reeser managed to reveal part of the words that have been made invisible.
Reeser attributed the text to Vada (pseudonym of E. Amory-Berends), whose poem Beiaard (Carillion, RC 129) Diepenbrock set for voice and piano in June 1916. However, the author might just as well be Frans Bastiaanse (1868-1947), in whose oeuvre towers are a recurring theme. In a letter of 27 September 1916 Diepenbrock alluded to setting one of his poems to music.
Mid 1915 Diepenbrock was asked to produce a composition for the Koningin Elisabeth-boek (Queen Elisabeth Book), a collection of original contributions by Dutch artists and scientists who sympathised with Belgium during the First World War. Diepenbrock was positive about the plan of the editors Frans Bastiaanse and Mrs F. Grothe-Twiss, but soon he let them know that providing music for such an occasion did not seem a good idea to him and that instead of a musical contribution, he would prefer to write some words in honour of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. (BD VIII:481) In his baroque text of 15 July 1915, which he sent to Bastiaanse the next day, Diepenbrock praised King Albert I (1875-1934), “the champion of Freedom of Europe”, who had succeeded in bringing the Teutonic advance to a halt. He described Queen Elisabeth (1876-1965) as
the heroic spouse of a heroic King, who in time of great need remained a Mother to her poor, trampled people, to her violated and defiled country. Mother of Sorrows, but also mother of Glory, – Mater dolorosa, Mater gloriosa. (VG:283).
Almost a year later, in June 1916, Bastiaanse made known that unfortunately the finances for publication were not yet in place, but that it was being worked on. Diepenbrock answered that he was pleased that the editors had not abandoned the plan:
The main thing for me is that for once the Netherlands undertakes some pro-Belgium action [...] and that the allied countries at last hear something else about the Netherlands than the eternal scheming and smuggling. (BD IX:119)
Most likely the Koningin Elisabeth-boek did not appear in print, but the contributions were put together in a case and presented to the queen.
Several lines of the poem Frans Bastiaanse had written especially for this occasion, were quoted in the newspaper the Algemeen Handelsblad. Diepenbrock liked them so much that on 27 September 1916 he wrote a letter to the author asking him for a copy of the whole poem, explaining:
I am looking everywhere for such poems with, to be sure, bad intentions which you might be able to guess when I say that I have written 4 topical songs about the war. Diepenbrock inquired whether the author would agree with the idea of a musical setting. He also said that he did not know in advance whether
I will be able to use your poem for musical purposes. (BD IX:160)
After Bastiaanse had sent him the complete poem, Diepenbrock replied on 5 October 1916 that five out of the fourteen strophes qualified for being set to music and he promised to contact Bastiaanse again if the composition was actually realised.
One can only speculate whether Diepenbrock’s sketch of De torens was the outcome of his plan, or whether he used a different text for his song. Curiously, both the text of the song and the copy Diepenbrock made of the five usable strophes of Bastiaanse’s poem have been lost. Only the Koningin Elisabeth-boek can give us a decisive answer, but we do not know where it is located at the moment.
Robert Spannenberg & Ton Braas