For a long time Diepenbrock’s Missa in die festo – the first version for solo male quartet, male choir and organ was realised between 17 May 1890 and 23 June 1891, the definite version for tenor, double male choir and organ between 22 February 1892 and 13 March 1894 (RC 27) – was ill-fated. Although a meticulous printed edition of the work appeared in 1896, it was neither performed in the concert hall, nor within the Catholic liturgy for which it was intended. The Netherlands simply had no male choirs that could meet the demands the work makes on the intonation and vocal technique of the singers. Moreover, the time was not yet ripe for the members of the episcopal committee assessing musical works to grant Diepenbrock’s Missa the nihil obstat, thus allowing it to be used as part of the liturgy.
In August 1891, a month after the completion of the first version, Diepenbrock considered rewriting the piece for mixed choir, orchestra and organ, but he soon gave up the idea. For many years he maintained that performing this music in a concert hall
would result in disharmony (or rather, would be absurd), as he stated to Mgr. J.A.S. van Schaik in May 1900. (BD III:212) His vision remained the same:
I had the space of a large cathedral (like the one in Venice) in mind (hence the alternating choirs), where the voices resonate along the vaults and the organ is just a backdrop to the singing, considerably dissipating the chromaticism and enharmony. (ibid.)
Diepenbrock held on to this ideal for a long time.
However, in the summer of 1911 he must have mentioned to his friend W.G. (Gijs) Hondius van den Broek that he was considering rewriting his Missa for mixed choir and orchestra, as Hondius reminded him of this plan on 17 November. From then on Hondius regularly mentioned the project. At the end of May 1912 he wrote to Diepenbrock:
What a pity it would be if all those musical treasures would remain just black marks on paper. (BD VII:381) A month later, not long after the performance of Vondel’s Gijsbrecht van Aemstel with the incidental music Diepenbrock had composed especially for the occasion (RC 108), Hondius pondered:
But now that I have at last heard this music properly, I return even more to my old conviction that the most profound and beautiful music by Diepenbrock is in the Mass. The Choral Songs, Te Deum, the Stabat Maters, the Hymns, Vondels Vaart (Vondel’s Voyage), Im grossen Schweigen (In the Great Silence), Die Nacht (The Night), the Songs and the Carmen: I truly believe that the seed of all of this is already present in the Mass and that in the Mass all of it has already been stated in the most beautiful way. […] What I mean is: let people now hear your Mass as well. (BD VII:393)
So Hondius thought Diepenbrock had already fully achieved his mastery of skills in this early composition.
Meanwhile, Diepenbrock had taken steps to follow Hondius’ suggestion. According to an entry in the diary of Elisabeth, halfway through June Evert Cornelis (1884-1931) had played the Missa for him on the Maarschalkerweerd organ in the Concertgebouw: “Once again he was moved by its profound spirit and by the resignation in the finale of the Credo.” Cornelis had expressed his astonishment about the parallels he saw with Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) and Mahler’s First Symphony, i.e. the same freedom of harmonies and dissonants. (BD VII:392) Still it took more than half a year for Diepenbrock to carry out his plan.
The orchestration of the Kyrie went well: having started on 22 January 1913, Diepenbrock completed it on 1 February. The Gloria took longer: from 21 March to 16 May.
In both the Kyrie and the Gloria the composer made a greater distinction between the separate blocks in the polyphone structure than in the score of 1892-1894, which employs two male choirs which have a similar range and timbre. This time there are three different forces: the ensemble of soloists, the mixed choir and the male choir. Thus, the responsorial character of the composition comes more into its own.
The instrumental groups of the orchestra are also often used in blocks. For example, the woodwinds determine the timbre at the beginning of the Kyrie, while the melodic lines of the second bassoon and the bass clarinet are often seconded by the cellos and the double basses. The trumpets only come to the foreground from m. 45, when the Kyrie is already two thirds on its way.
The two parts are mainly a literal transcription of the original (the voice leading remains unchanged). The beginning of the Gloria required a deviation from the printed edition of 1896. In this version – conform the liturgical prescription in the Roman Catholic Church that the priest intones the Gloria – the movement opens with the second line “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”. In the orchestrated version Diepenbrock has chosen for a rhythmisation of the Gregorian intonatio in the tenor part, sung over a timpani roll.
Diepenbrock stopped after the Gloria; he put the score aside, explaining that:
I could not bare the idea that I had nothing new on the go at all and that I was working without any prospect whatsoever of a performance […] on a piece that is 20 years old and that I have never heard yet. (BD VIII:181)
Even after the premiere of the Missa in die festo in October 1916, Diepenbrock did not change his mind.
On 7 January 1950 Diepenbrock’s setting of the Kyrie and Gloria for four vocal soloists, mixed choir, male choir and orchestra was premiered in Maastricht by a quartet of four young singers, the Maastreechter Staar, the females of the Maastricht City Grammar School Choir and the Maastricht City Orchestra conducted by André Rieu (1917-1992). Theo van der Bijl (1886-1917) and Eduard Reeser (1908-2002) prepared the choral parts and the score for edition. Due to the success the composition had then as well as at the Holland Festival of 1961 (conducted by Bernard Haitink in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw), the Alphons Diepenbrock Fund asked Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) to complete the torso. The work has been performed several times in that version.