Alphons Diepenbrock was born on 2 September 1862 in Amsterdam and grew up in a Catholic family of five children. In 1895 he married Elisabeth de Jong van Beek en Donk (1868-1939). They had two children: Joanna (1905-1966) and Thea (1907-1995). Diepenbrock died in Amsterdam on April 5, 1921.
Diepenbrock is a self-taught composer. As a child, Diepenbrock was attracted to music and he played the piano and the violin. His parents did not support his wish to go to the conservatory and Diepenbrock went to study classical languages instead. He composed in his spare time. In 1888 he took his doctoral degree on a thesis on Seneca.
In the same year he was appointed as a classics teacher at the gymnasium in Den Bosch. In his spare time, he was still composing, as well as writing essays on various subjects, such as music, painting, literature, philosophy, social history and politics for journals such as De Nieuwe Gids and De Kroniek.
Dissatisfied with the educational system of that time and the uninspiring environment of the town where he was living, Diepenbrock moved to Amsterdam in 1895. Here, he gave private lessons in classical languages and started to focus more on composition.
Owing in part to the unique combination of being a classicist and composer, he is one of the most interesting personalities in Dutch musical life around 1900. Without developing an actual teacher-student relationship, he serves as a mentor to many younger composers. He is an inspiration for Jan Ingenhoven, Matthijs Vermeulen, Hendrik Andriessen and Willem Pijper.
As a conductor, he performed many contemporary works, including Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (at the Concertgebouw) as well as works by Fauré and Debussy.
Diepenbrock’s great interest in literature finds expression in the texts and themes in his many vocal compositions. Some of his influences were Goethe, Novalis, Vondel, Brentano, Hölderlin, Heine, Nietzsche, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some of Alphons Diepenbrock’s compositions took inspiration from and are based on poems by Heine Goethe and Dutch poets such as Van Eeden.
He created a musical idiom which, in a highly personal manner, combined 16th-century polyphony with Wagnerian chromaticism, to which in later years was added the impressionistic refinement that he encountered in Debussy’s music. Out of a feeling of insecurity, he was always polishing his music. On the other hand, the collaboration with directors and singers who were convinced of the qualities of his work, always fortified and helped him.
Diepenbrock, now a prolific composer, primarily of symphonic songs and choral works, wrote his most famous one, ‘Die Nacht‘ (1911) written for mezzo-soprano voice and orchestra.
War greatly affected Alphons Diepenbrock’s life. He took his patriotic role as a composer during the war very seriously, writing songs expressing opposition to Germany. He was active in the Ligue des Pays Neutres and wrote numerous anti-German articles and songs such as ‘Belges, debout’! and ‘Les poilus de l’Argonne’.