Diepenbrock had close contact with the Belgian composer Charles Smulders (1863-1934) and they criticised each other’s new works. Diepenbrock asked Smulders twice (in letters of 5 and 28 October 1898) whether the Hymne voor viool en piano (Hymn for Violin and Piano) would be suitable for turning into a violin solo with orchestral accompaniment. (BD III:65,73) Smulders suggested that it might be a good idea to let all the violins play the melody as the piece appears to breathe a collective spirit (chanter une âme collective). (BD III:79) This appealed to Diepenbrock’s ideal image of society: the community as he thought it had been in the Middle Ages. Diepenbrock immediately followed Smulders’ suggestion; he completed the score on 6 January 1899.
This orchestral version of the Hymne was performed before the version for violin and piano. After the premiere in the Concertgebouw on 20 April 1899 – Smulders’ symphonic poem Adieu, Absence et Retour (Farewell, Absence and Return) was also then performed for the first time – Diepenbrock characterised his work to Smulders as
a lyrical speech. (BD III:139) Some critics clearly identified this intention. After the second performance on 23 April, Anton Averkamp wrote about the piece in the Dutch weekly newsmagazine De Amsterdammer:
In Diepenbrock’s Hymn one is immediately taken by the striking and beautifully defined motive that opens the work without any introduction. Diepenbrock calls his work Hymn; indeed, it is a song of praise without words and every strophe breathes the same spirit; they all present the main theme, sometimes in its original form, sometimes varied to some extent, but always ending with a free and unrestrained cadence. Until now Diepenbrock had always expressed himself as a vocal composer, but this time he has felt the need to clothe his thoughts in an instrumental robe; however, a robe in which the singer does not renounce himself, because in the form as well as in the melody and rhythm one can recognise the composer of heartfelt songs, which move one because of the truth through which they have sprung from the poet’s soul. (BD III:552-553)
As point of criticism Averkamp put forward that
the frequent use of the motive requires an even greater richness of colour. Other critics also expressed themselves in a similar way.
The orchestration of the Hymne formed the impetus for Diepenbrock’s symphonic songs on texts by Novalis (RC 49 and RC 50).