We do not know exactly when Diepenbrock started to set the text, which in those days was attributed to Jacopone da Todi (c. 1230-1306), to music. According to the composer himself (BD III:464), it must have been somewhere in 1887 when he was studying Latin and Greek at the University of Amsterdam. However, we do know that he returned to the piece in March 1888, “in a few days taken off” in the middle of the preparations for his PhD. (BD II:413) He did not complete the work then: eight out of the ten six-line strophes were set to music; strophes 6 and 7 were still missing.
Diepenbrock decided on a homophonic setting, after the eight-part Stabat mater for double choir by Palestrina. A token of Diepenbrock’s admiration can be found at the end of his composition, where he quotes the chord progression the sixteenth-century master used to open the work (in A-flat major):
For his composition Diepenbrock did not use the text of the Stabat mater from the Roman Catholic liturgy, but the poem as found in Palestrina’s setting. He did not agree with the changes made at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the Breviarum Romanum was revised. Diepenbrock’s ‘justification’ for choosing Palestrina’s version can be found in a letter from June 1898 to Mgr. J.A.S. van Schaik:
If I had intended the composition for liturgical purposes, I would have kept to the prescribed text. I did not think of that […] but only tried as best I could to musically illustrate the poem in its most beautiful form. As I am not a musician by trade but a philologist, I have many objections to the official reading: I think they are all permeated with the spirit of the ‘Renaissance’, which governed the revision of the liturgical books at the beginning of the 17th century.
According to Diepenbrock, “in a time too much notice was taken of Cicero and Horace” several verses were wrongly adapted to the rhythm of the Latin prose. He preferred the original words:
“Inflammatus et accensus” is naive and magnificent, though clumsy. “Flammis ne urar” is correct but weak. In my opinion especially the last strophe “Fac me cruce custodiri, Morte Christi praemuniri, Confoveri gratia” is really a Franciscan concept. What has replaced it is pseudo-classical and far too Roman (“palma victoriae, da ... me venire”). Palestrina used the same text in the 12-part and the 8-part Stabat. For me this is also proof that there was a tradition here. (BD III:50)
In the draft of this letter Diepenbrock speaks of “the naive clumsiness which so often characterises the work of the great mystics”. (BD III:463) His views were confirmed in an anthology of rediscovered texts of church songs, hymns and canticles that was published in1892: Le Latin mystique. Les poètes de l’antiphonaire et la symbolique au moyen âge by Remy de Gourmont.1
In the Holy Week of 1888, in other words shortly after the (still incomplete) work was written, the Stabat mater dolorosa was performed in a church in Amsterdam by a male vocal double quartet. Apparently the result was appalling; according to the composer, the singers had “ruined” his piece. (BD I:263)
In March 1891 – when Diepenbrock was still teaching Latin and Greek at the municipal grammar school in ’s-Hertogenbosch – the newly founded liedertafel ‘Oefening en Uitspanning’ (Practice and Leisure), conducted by Léon C. Bouman, was planning to perform the Stabat mater dolorosa. However, the choir did not manage to master Diepenbrock’s harmonies and the piece was put aside. (BD I:266)
The revised version for mixed choir from the beginning of 1896 (see RC 34) clearly did not diminish the value Diepenbrock attached to the original setting for male choir. It was performed – including the strophes 6 and 7 – under Anton Averkamp in the Moses and Aaron Church in Amsterdam at the service for Palm Sunday on 29 March 1896. Five days later Averkamp premiered the later version for mixed choir. In 1901 Diepenbrock gave the version for male choir to P.J. Jos Vranken so the work could be performed at the liturgy in passione et morte Domini in the cathedral church of the archbishopric of Utrecht on Good Friday (5 April).
In 1930, after the work had received the nihil obstat for “use outside the liturgy” from the ‘Episcopal Committee for the Assessment of Musical Church Compositions’ on 23 February, the work was published by Alsbach.
1 Diepenbrock owned no. 87 of the 220 copies that were numbered and signed by the author; date of purchase: 28 October 1892.