During the preparations for the concerts in October 1908 at which Gerard Zalsman and his quartet of soloists were to premiere Diepenbrock’s Gleich zu Gleich (Like to Like, RC 85), Wandrers Nachtlied (Wanderer’s Night Song, RC 86) and Auf dem See (On the Lake, RC 87), Zalsman asked the composer to write a ‘drinking song’ that could serve as an encore. Diepenbrock immediately started reworking a setting of Goethe’s Ergo bibamus for male choir he had made in 1884. (BD VI:59) The first attempt, dated 11 October, was notated spread out over several pages of sketchbook C-9, which he was using in 1908. It is interspersed with sketches of the song Celebrität (Celebrity, RC 91), on which he then focused all his attention. He did not return to Ergo bibamus until a month later: the neat copy B-11(8) dates from 23 November 1908.
Diepenbrock did not hear from Zalsman for a few weeks, so he concluded that the piece was not needed for the time being. In December he sent the manuscript to his friend W.G. Hondius van den Broek in order to discuss it. In the accompanying letter Diepenbrock mentioned that of the original version for male choir –
that old thing as he called it –
not a single note remains, only the 1st motive, and even that has been changed. A few alterations were indeed made to the theme, as we can see from a comparison of the sketchbook and the neat copy: originally the third note was also a d and the punctuated rhythms of mm. 2-3 have substituted the quavers. The march tempo that is explicitly indicated in the sketch of 11 October 1908, has been replaced by Allegro moderato. However, the notation suggests that Diepenbrock’s Ergo bibamus should be sung pretty much in time. Overall the piece is syllabic; only in the last “Ergo bibamus” all the voices have a melisma. There are also remarkably few modulations.
The date of the first performance has not been documented.