Something a bit different this week – from the Radio Nederland series Netherlands Composers, issued by their Transcription department circa 1950 – a performance of the Overture to Act 3 of Marsyas with the Hague Residentie Orchestra conducted by Willem van Otterloo.
Although his music bears a strong resemblance to Gustav Mahler and he was a contemporary of both him and Arnold Schoenberg as well as Richard Strauss, the music of Alphons Diepenbrock isn’t widely performed these days, outside his native Holland. Born in 1862 and passing away in 1921, Diepenbrock left behind an impressive trove of compositions. As a conductor, he led The Concertgebouw in the Dutch premier of Mahler’s 4th symphony as well as premiers in Holland of works by Fauré and Debussy.
But even during his lifetime, the music of Alphons Diepenbrock has been overlooked – although it has been part of most Radio Nederland Composers series, and a few of his works have received commercial recordings – much of his work goes largely unplayed.
In his time, Diepenbrock was often called a learned dillettante. The fact is that he, as a composer, did not enjoy any professional training. There was, therefore, some ground for the mistrust that his father harbored with regard to a conducting career. Diepenbrock later often regretted having lost so much time in learning skills that others, thanks to a sound education, acquired early on. Remarkably, he almost exclusively produced vocal compositions. Exceptions are the Hymn for violin and piano, later orchestrated, and the theater plays after 1910. His preference for the vocal genres was at that time completely unusual in the Netherlands, with the exception of a few who were exclusively occupied with the composition of church music. Diepenbrock’s literary interest and his philological studies will have contributed to his vocal orientation. Perhaps the autodidact had some difficulty with the design of large instrumental works, where the formal support of a text is missing. His choice of text is also very remarkable for that time: few musicians from the years 1885-1890 were familiar with the work of the Tachtigers, with whom he had been intensely acquainted as a student; furthermore, in Dutch songwriting, he introduced authors such as Baudelaire, Verlaine, Novalis, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, von Günderode and Brentano. A predilection had the composer for Goethe, but that was nothing new in the context of German-speaking song art. Many of his c. He orchestrated 50 songs later. In addition to these orchestrated piano songs, the originally conceived songs for voice and orchestra are among his best works. Concerning the orchestral song, Diepenbrock contributed alongside Mahler to the development of this late-romantic genre, starting with both Hymns that Night to Novalis (1899).
This performance, a radio broadcast recording from circa 1950 (no dates on the transcription disc and no notes), and features the newly appointed Music Director of The Hague Residentie Orchestra, Willem von Otterloo.
Sadly, the 16″ discs this piece was recorded on have seen better days – trying to get rid of as much annoying noise without sacrificing the music can be tricky. But it’s a historic performance by an overlooked composer of considerable merit. The inconvenience is worth it – in my opinion.