After Les poilus de l’Argonne (The Soldiers of the Argonne, RC 122), Landstormlied (Song of the Home Reserves, RC 123) and Beiaard (Carillon, RC 129), Belges, debout! (Belgians, Arise!) was Diepenbrock’s fourth ‘war song’. The text by the French wine-grower and amateur poet F.H. de Puymaly was circulated in a private edition that was issued four times (place of publication was his château in the Gironde region). The poem La Marseillaise belge (The Belgian Marseillaise) consists of six eight-line verses, each ending with the refrain
Debout, Belges, debout! Luttons avec fierté,
Luttons, soldats, de Droit et de la Liberté!
Arise, Belgians, arise! Let’s fight with pride,
Let’s fight, soldiers, for Law and Liberty!
The poem summons the Belgians to risk their lives to free themselves from the yoke of the German oppression and to stand up as heroes for Law and Liberty. De Puymaly used the verse feet of the revolution text par excellence: the Marseillaise.
Under the title Belges, debout! Diepenbrock turned the poem into a combat song, in a constant march tempo. The melody of the verse is modelled after the Marseillaise, but generously exceeds the range of its example with the upward octave leap to measure 7. Diepenbrock’s style can be heard in the chromatic bass line of the accompaniment, as well as in the occasional rich harmonies. However, the melody and harmony of the refrain is so simple that it invites one to sing along.
Belges, debout! was written between 6 and 14 September 1916. Soon after its completion Diepenbrock had several copies made. He also decided to produce a printed edition himself, which already appeared in October. He dedicated the work to Pierre Hans (1886-1960), a Belgian engineer and musician who lived as an exile in the village of Bunde, near Maastricht. Before the war he had taught chemistry at the University of Liège. During his exile, he and several fellow countrymen had formed an ensemble that gave concerts to raise money for Belgian war invalids and prisoners of war in Germany. The proceeds of the sale of the printed copies of Belges, debout! were all to go towards this charity.
The poet, when informed about the setting of his text by Diepenbrock, was very honoured. He thought the title was well chosen, especially as the Belgian composer Emile Wambach (1854-1924) had composed a work under the original title. To thank him, De Puymaly offered Diepenbrock another poem that had not yet been set to music, Le vin de la Revanche (The Wine of Retaliation, see RC 135).
At the performance of Diepenbrock’s Belges, debout! the text of the song met with opposition from those who considered the message subversive. It was soon feared that it violated the official Dutch stance of neutrality. Therefore Diepenbrock advised Marie Versteegh to leave out some of the verses. (BD IX:218) The message of protest would come across anyway…