Born on September 2, 1862 in Amsterdam, Alphons Diepenbrock grew up in a Roman Catholic family. His parents, Ferdinand Diepenbrock and Johanna Kuytenbrouwer, stimulated their son to learn about diverse topics, to read a lot and to develop his own vision. Although Diepenbrock had the ambition to become “Kapellmeister”, a profession in music was not stimulated. The profession did not provide sufficient security for the future or social status. Diepenbrock therefore chose to study classical literature at the University of Amsterdam.
In 1888, the year in which the Concertgebouw was festively inaugurated, Herman Gorter’s Mei appeared and Willem Kloos’ first Sonnets were published, Diepenbrock obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on Seneca. He had already made a name for himself as a composer by the publication of two works: the piano setting of the Academische Feestmarsch for the celebration of the first university lustrum, and a songbook, “Three ballads on poems by Uhland, Goethe and Heine”.
Also in 1888, Diepenbrock was appointed teacher of classical languages at the grammar school in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where he remained until 1894.
During his years in Den Bosch he wrote “Missa in Die Festo” for male choir, tenor solo and organ, and four choirs songs from the Gijsbrecht van Aemstel by Vondel. He also met Elisabeth de Jong van Beek en Donk, whom he married in 1895. Together they settled in Amsterdam. They had two children: Joanna and Thea.
In order to support his family, Diepenbrock gave private lessons in the classical languages. He composed in his spare hours, as well as writing essays on a variety of subjects such as music, painting, literature, philosophy, social history and politics. They have been collected and published in Collected Writings by Alphons Diepenbrock (Utrecht, 1950).
As a doctor of classical literature and self-taught composer, Diepenbrock had a difficult position in Dutch musical life. However, the collaboration with musicians has always strengthened Diepenbrock in his work as a composer. The friendship with the Limburg composer Carl Smulders, for example, stimulated him enormously. The correspondence shows a mutual respect in both professional and friendly terms. The collaboration with the soprano Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius gave him great satisfaction. Her voice prompted him to write songs for soprano. The friendship with conductor Willem Mengelberg has always stimulated him. Diepenbrock attended rehearsals of the Concertgebouw Orchestra to gain more insight into the orchestra and the instrumentation art, a point about which Diepenbrock has been uncertain for a long time. The first demonstrable result of this confrontation is the orchestration Diepenbrock made in 1898 of his “Hymne for violin and piano”.
Diepenbrock’s dealings with visual artists and writers have also profoundly influenced him. In his work he strived for an ideal of beauty comparable to architecture. Diepenbrock greatly admired the work of Pierre J. H. Cuypers. He learned from him that every detail must have both constructive and decorative value. The 1894 Missa was “built” with this principle in mind. When Cuypers turned seventy in 1897, Diepenbrock wrote the five-part a cappella choral work “Caelestis urbs Jerusalem” for him. This hymn sings about the actual building and dedication of a church.
The choice of text for his works is remarkable. Diepenbrock was the first to use texts by modern Dutch poets such as Frederik van Eeden, Albert Verwey, Jacques Perk and Hélène Swarth in the years 1885-1890. Diepenbrock was closely associated with the “Eighties” through his friendships with the founders from the very beginning. He wrote three contributions for their magazine De Nieuwe Gids. Diepenbrock was also the first to introduce texts by Verlaine and Baudelaire, Novalis and Brentano, Caroline von Gündenrode, Hölderlin and Nietzsche into Dutch music.
An important turning point in Diepenbrock’s life is the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Although Diepenbrock rarely spoke politically and prided himself on being ignorant of politics, he was so much shocked by the outbreak of the war that he expressed himself even stronger in his music. This resulted in a series of battle songs such as “Les Poilus de l’Argonne” and “Le Vin de la Revanche”.
Diepenbrock died in Amsterdam on April 5, 1921.