RC 134 Dors, mon gâs

  • Botrel, Théodore
  • solo voice and piano
  • 1916-11-18 00:00:00.0
  • duration 2:00

In September 1916 Diepenbrock befriended Marie Versteegh (1884-1953), the mezzo-soprano who inspired him to write Incantation (RC 132). The singer owned a copy of the chanson Dors, mon gâs! (Sleep, My Child) by the Breton folk-singer Théodore Botrel (1868-1925) in a harmonisation by Léon Delerue. It may have been that she disliked the hurdy-gurdy-like accompaniment to the charming melody; in any case, it must have been her who asked Diepenbrock to make a new setting of the chanson that autumn. On 20 November 1916 Versteegh sang Diepenbrock’s version of the song, which he transposed from F major to G major, at an ‘artistic soirée’ of the Committee Providing for the Needs of French Prisoners of War and Blind War Victims in the Trianon Hotel in Amsterdam. (BD IX:522) She was accompanied on the piano by Cato Engelbertus.

Diepenbrock’s harmonisation is also straightforward, although in places his piano accompaniment is four-part. Both settings have an introduction of eight measures in which the vocal melody is presented with diminutions, followed by the three verses of the strophic song. However, Diepenbrock’s accompaniment, which mainly consists of broken chords, is less simplistic than that of Delerue. His introduction shows more imagination too; the bass part breaks through the simple pattern as it is spread over several octaves. This might be a reference to the ominous content of the berceuse, in which a sailor’s wife sings of the uncertain fate of the father of her little boy. The only certainty she has is that when her child grows up, he will also go to sea...

Marie Versteegh had a voice that was very suitable for expressing the nature of such a chanson. A friend of Diepenbrock once characterised her with the following comparison: Marie V., whose voice is not colourful, not strong, has a natural way of singing, every inch French genre, without noticeable effort. (BD IX:376) That must have been why Diepenbrock enjoyed venturing into the light genre for her. In fact, he had already made a contribution in this field two decades before with his Chanson de l’hypertrophique (Song of the Little Hypertrophic, RC 32) and judging by his Landstormlied (Song of the Home Reserves, RC 123) and Zegeklanken (Sounds of Victory, RC 127), he had not shied away from the ‘popular tone’ quite recently either.

Robert Spannenberg