The first sketch of Diepenbrock’s setting of Verlaine’s Mandoline (Mandolin) dates from 7 June 1909. On p. 16 of sketchbook C-10 the contours of the opening melody of the voice, in the key of D major, has been outlined, but as yet without the characteristic octave leap and the graceful triplet on “sérénades” (serenades). The sentence “C’est Tircis et c’est Aminte” (It is Tircis and it is Aminte) on the top of p. 17 is already based on an ascending fifth. The fragment ends there. Many pages later, we can see Diepenbrock’s next step - made on 5 August - towards the definite form of the song, in the key of C-sharp major, which he wrote down in neat in the back of the same sketchbook. In this version the striking theme in the piano gives unity to the composition. In later years he shortened the conclusion of the song in three phases.
Diepenbrock composed Mandoline for the French singer Julie Hekking-Cahen, who he admired for her diction. On 30 July 1909 he played to her Puisque l’aube grandit (Since Dawn Awoke, RC 97), which he has also composed for her. She immediately sang it from sight almost without any mistakes and promised to perform the piece together with some other songs by Diepenbrock. (BD VI:130) This inspired Diepenbrock to write Mandoline, which he characterised as
a virtuoso piece. (BD VI:169) Indeed, the singer needs a supple technique to handle this graceful, light-footed song with its octave leaps, tumbling triplet figures, trills and fast scale passages.
Accompanied by Evert Cornelis, Julie Hekking premiered Mandoline in the Recital Hall of the Concertgebouw on 23 November 1909, alongside Puisque l’aube grandit. She also sang Écoutez la chanson bien douce (Hear the Sweetest Song, RC 40) and songs by Fauré, Chausson, Duparc, Franck, Debussy, Chabrier and Bruneau.
The Hungarian mezzo-soprano Ilona Durigo (1881-1943) was the one to introduce Mandoline to a larger audience and make it popular. On 12 February 1912 she gave a concert in Amsterdam with Evert Cornelis, featuring Mandoline, Clair de lune (Moonshine, RC 43) and the premiere of Diepenbrock’s Liebesklage (Love’s Lament, RC 95). It was repeated in Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. Critic W.N.F. Sibmacher Zijnen praised Mandoline as a
masterpiece of musical depiction. (BD VII:584)
Berthe Seroen (1882-1957) included Mandoline in her repertory too. When she presented the song, also accompanied by Evert Cornelis, on 19 February 1917, Matthijs Vermeulen waxed lyrical about it:
This Mandoline by Diepenbrock is witty, gentle, melancholic and ironic, composed with a mastery of colour and melody. (BD IX:550)
As we can read in a letter of 29 May 1917, Diepenbrock even considered orchestrating Mandoline for Seroen, but he never got round to it.