To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
With the successes of Appalachia, Sea Drift and the revised Piano Concerto, and the accumulation of interest from British conductors such as Wood, Beecham and Bantock, the desire for Delius to return to the composition of orchestral music, where his true instincts lay, must have been almost irresistible. Orchestral programmes in London and the provinces, notably in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, were alive more than ever due to the symphonic poem, and two of the Musical League's major forces, Elgar and Bantock, were prominent authors of this new, vibrant genre. Delius, of course, was himself the proud author of Paris, Lebenstanz and Appalachia, all of which had shown the assimilation of Strauss. These works had been very much a manifestation of his cosmopolitan existence and outlook, but with his next orchestral work, Brigg Fair, the public's perception of Delius as an Englishman seemed much more immediate (even though to Beecham the work had more to do with the classical phenomenon of pastoral and the eighth Eclogue of Virgil's ‘Incipe Maenalios mecum, mea tibia, versus’). Beecham's comment was almost certainly levelled at the remarks of Heseltine, Gray, Hutchings and Fenby who all located Brigg Fair in the still, mist-ridden summer landscape of England. A more likely reality is that we should not underestimate Delius's sense of opportunism; given the Zeitgeist of folksong collection and arrangement in England at the time (particularly with Vaughan Williams, Holst, Sharp and Grainger himself), an orchestral piece based on a national tune was destined to win hearts and minds.
The spur to compose Brigg Fair is well known. Grainger had been actively collecting folksongs in rural Lincolnshire in 1905 where, by dint of its relative geographical isolation, it was still normal for local people to make their own entertainment. Moved by this social phenomenon, Grainger collected dozens of tunes, and took part in the Brigg Festival in 1906 as a conductor, directing choirs, soloists and the Brigg Brass Band in several of his folksong arrangements, including ‘Brigg Fair’, which was performed for the first time. The arrangement of ‘Brigg Fair’ (dedicated to Grieg), which had been recently published by Forsyth, turned out to be the highlight of the concert, thanks in no small part to Gervase Elwes as tenor soloist. It is thought Delius first met the young Grainger in April 1907 at the house of John Singer Sargent.
The central issue of this study of Delius's music has been to examine the composer's musical style and ethos with a particular emphasis on its formal coherence and cohesion, since the latter has always remained an issue of controversy and disagreement among Delius's critics and, most of all, his detractors. To some extent Delius himself did not assist the reception of his own music in denouncing the benefits of musical education, and more specifically his own at the Leipzig Conservatoire. His comments, according to Fenby, about Leipzig, made in an era when (a) technical mastery was increasingly considered a trammel to genuine creativity, (b) academicism a synonym for pedestrianism, and (c) autodidacticism a virtue, have, nevertheless, to be accepted ‘with a pinch of salt’. Delius may have learned the rudiments of music from Thomas Ward, but his musical technique almost certainly widened exponentially during his two years at Leipzig – Florida and Hiawatha both demonstrate how far he had come – and, even then, he had mastered sufficient technique to allow some of his original imagination to reveal itself. Judging from the counterpoint he had learned with Jadassohn, a third year at Leipzig might have proved additionally beneficial had he possessed the patience to stay on, not least because it might have enhanced his appreciation of counterpoint as an emancipating compositional force. But Delius was eager to get on and he chose the more empirical path of selfcommunion to develop his style, by private study of Grieg and by copying parts of Wagner's operas, besides frequenting the concert hall and opera theatres as much as was physically possible during the 1890s. In many ways these years more fully constituted his ‘university’ education, though the life and values Delius chose to pursue made the process of development as a composer that much more complex, protracted and hard-won.
Delius is well known to have shunned the idea of ‘formal’ structure, and over the years this has not been helped by observations such as ‘the intellectual content of Delius's music is perilously thin’, or that form in Delius ‘was unimportant’. For many, of course, this chimed with the notion that his music was ‘self-governing and self-reliant’ rather than conforming to some preconceived impediments imposed by academic exigency.
By the spring of 1888 Delius was impatient to move on; moreover, the coterie of Norwegians was about to fragment. ‘Our wonderful time in Leipzig has now melted away into the past’, he later wrote to Grieg from Bradford; ‘I have never lived through such a congenial time. It has been a cornerstone in my life’. Halvorsen was the first to depart and Delius followed a fortnight later and had no intention of returning. The Griegs left in April, leaving only Sinding to languish in solitude. Delius's withdrawal from Leipzig, as Philip Jones has argued, was entirely voluntary (which somewhat contradicts the assertion that his father had only granted him a limited period of eighteen months of study). His letter to Gertrude Rueckert of December 1886 makes it clear that he expected to be in Leipzig for three years like other fellow students, but given that he attended few of the classes for which he was registered (with the exception of those with Reinecke, Jadassohn and Sitt), it is not surprising that he saw little point in continuing. The wonder is that Leipzig granted him a diploma at all. Delius's later disparagement of Leipzig, the ‘Double Fugue Institution’ as Sinding sarcastically described it, is well known. At a time when he made these comments, autodidacticism was deeply fashionable; likewise, popular ‘anti-intellectualism’ in composition and criticism deemed the word ‘academic’ (especially in the hands of Bernard Shaw) a pejorative term. Yet, Delius's experiences there, whether in the classroom, at the opera or in the concert hall, inculcated a sense of professionalism in his work and, more significantly, his later methods, with an incisive degree of self-criticism. However, possessed with youthful arrogance and (more importantly) belief in his own abilities, like many of his peers, he undoubtedly felt that he could make more progress on his own without Jadassohn's watchful eye. In January 1889, in a letter to Delius, Sinding ruefully commented: ‘it is queer how Jadassohn impresses the stamp of his own personality on his pupils, if they cannot emancipate themselves from it’. Emancipating himself clearly was Delius's desire. As he declared to the much younger Heseltine: ‘Harmony is only a means of expression which is gradually developing. I don't believe in learning harmony and counterpoint’.
Even before the opportunity to hear parts of Koanga in London in 1899, Delius had embarked on yet another work for the stage, as if he was anxious to move on from the aesthetic world of his third opera to pastures new. In fact, it appears that the ink of Koanga was barely dry before Delius approached Keary with a request for a libretto based on the Swiss author Gottfried Keller’s short story ‘Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe’ from the collection Die Leute von Seldwyla written between 1856 and 1874. Keller was associated with the German-speaking literary movement of ‘Bourgeois’ or ‘Poetic’ Realism, one which promoted virtue in ordinary, local people, customs, events and morals. As Christopher Palmer has commented, it ‘implied the statistical norm, the social generality; subject matter was drawn from the unexceptional rather than from the phenomenal, and settings tended to restrict themselves to the provincial and homespun’. Keller, along with his contemporaries, Theodor Storm, Adalbert Stifter, Eduard Friedrich Mörike and Nikolaus Lenau, sought refuge in the settled order, observing value and honesty in rural, peasant life rather than in urban reality, and essentially represented a reaction to the insidious influences of materialism and industrialisation (just as Romanticism had earlier reacted to the starker truths of the Age of Reason) which threatened to overwhelm it. In one of his most famous stories, ‘Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe’, which was based on a newspaper report of a local tragedy, Keller tells of pauper lovers who commit suicide by drowning together. The progeny of two feuding farmers, Manz and Marti, who fall out over a coveted strip of land separating their fields, Sali and Vreli (Vreli) are forbidden to see each other (hence the reference to Shakespeare's famous drama). Riven with hate, the two fathers are impoverished by the cost of futile litigation – Manz becomes a humble publican, Marti sells all except his dilapidated cottage – and the families become homeless beggars; yet, with poetic irony, the ruinous process brings Sali and Vreli closer together and they grow up to fall in love.
It is one of the most puzzling aspects of Delius's creative path that, between 1914 and 1923, while also occupying himself more amenably with the composition of that most romantic of idioms, the symphonic poem, he became consumed with the need to write a series of instrumental works entirely dependent on the classical imperatives of sonata and concerto. Beecham was baffled; he considered the enterprise a failure, save for the Violin Concerto, and expressed a relief in the restoration of the composer's natural gifts in the freer forms of Eventyr, A Song Before Sunrise and, even more so, in Hassan. Heseltine was similarly hesitant: ‘Delius is not seen at his best in those works whose form is dependent upon the development of contrasted themes in a certain relation preordained by tradition’. While Evans, perhaps the most eloquent of all, remarked: ‘Where we may find them [Delius's compositional methods] to fail is in those works which by their medium invite comparison with the classics on which our musical experience is based. Even by their titles alone, the Delius concertos and sonatas compel us to apply terms of evaluation foreign to the comp us to apply terms of evaluation foreign to the composer’s nature’.
Delius never gave his reasons for wishing to revisit more classical idioms that he had only briefly explored in the past. The Violin Sonata in B major of 1892, a perhaps overblown work, had been long since shelved, as had his Suite for Violin and Orchestra; and, for all its popularity and number of performances, his Piano Concerto never met with his greatest satisfaction. Nevertheless, Delius evidently believed that the possibilities of rhapsodic lyricism and thematic variation, seminal to his style and modus operandi, might be a productive source of new forms, and, given his zeal to explore new structural ideas in his symphonic poems, the traditional sonata and concerto seemed a ripe field for his attention and one to which he evidently felt he could make a novel and creative contribution. In consequence, this gave rise to a new and heightened awareness of the role of thematic material and the integral role of key in his style. With regard to the latter, in particular, we find that Delius seemed to discover a new simplicity in his favoured one-movement forms, expressed by a new contrapuntal fluency, the choice of uncomplicated tonalities (e.g. C major, A minor, D minor and F) and the process of ‘dual functionality’ in his structural thinking.oser's nature’.
The notion of a large-scale work based on Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra had probably been gestating in Delius's mind since the end of the 1890s, after completion of Mitternachtslied Zarathustras and the four experimental Nietzsche songs. As we know, after the one flirtation with Mitternachtslied Zarathustras in 1898, his creative energies were still very much diverted by his attraction to the Tristan myth, whether in Koanga or in A Village Romeo and Juliet, and, as we have seen in Sea Drift, the need to sublimate his obsession with love, death and ecstasy. Also the orchestral modernisms of Richard Strauss required some form of assimilation in Paris, Lebenstanz and Appalachia before a work such as Sea Drift was allowed to emerge with a new assurance. As mentioned previously, choral music was not an instinctive milieu for Delius. He had no practical experience of running a choir, nor participation in a choral society; indeed, Delius came more readily to the chorus through its role in opera. However, after the experience of Sea Drift, in which those facets of the opera house happily found a home in the concert room, it is not surprising that he soon came to the conclusion that choral music – on an epic scale – could, and should, be the most apposite symphonic vehicle for the expression of his concordance with Nietzsche’s Weltanschauung.
Having Mitternchtslied Zarathustras already to hand may well have been the initial incentive to proceed with his grand Nietzschean choral project. Indeed, as Threlfall has pertinently commented, the revival of the work in Basel in 1903 under Suter (after its original hearing in London under Hertz in 1899) may well have provided the critical stimulus to begin work in earnest. As we have seen repeatedly, Delius was never averse to the cannibalisation of his earlier music for new compositions, and the whole was taken over, save the final sixty bars, to be, as Fenby noted, the ‘spiritual axis’ of A Mass of Life. Even the original dedication, to his cousin Arthur Krönig, was retained in the score (while the Mass in its entirety was dedicated to Fritz Cassirer.
In many ways the outbreak of war in August 1914 could not have occurred at a worse time for Delius. Performances of his music in England and Germany were at an all-time high. As Carley has noted, he bathed in London's musical scene, enjoyed concerts and operas, and was wined and dined in the capital’s most elevated social circles, even at 10 Downing Street where he lunched with Prime Minister Asquith. Beecham, Wood and others were keen to take on any new works he produced and many of the younger generation, such as Norman O’Neill, Heseltine and Grainger – devoted disciples of Delius's art – continued to help with the promotion of his music. But in the light of the alarming European political events and the extraordinary speed with which nations were being catapulted towards disaster, Delius must have sensed that it was almost inevitable that major military disruption would come. Writing to Heseltine on 30 July, only days before the outbreak of hostilities, he remarked: ‘I do hope War will not break out & knock all Art and Music on the head for years’. The war did indeed bring disorder to Delius's life at Grez. As the Germans made what seemed like their unstoppable advance towards Paris, Grainger's exhortation that he should leave for England and then cross to the United States appeared rational. Although he was forced to leave Grez with Jelka in September, the couple returned home after news of the allied creative apogee and decline In many ways the outbreak of war in August 1914 could not have occurred at a worse time for Delius. Performances of his music in England and Germany were at an all-time high. As Carley has noted, he bathed in London's musical scene, enjoyed concerts and operas, and was wined and dined in the capital’s most elevated social circles, even at 10 Downing Street where he lunched with Prime Minister Asquith. Beecham, Wood and others were keen to take on any new works he produced and many of the younger generation, such as Norman O’Neill, Heseltine and Grainger – devoted disciples of Delius's art – continued to help with the promotion of his music.
My introduction to the music of Delius took place while I was a schoolboy of about fourteen years of age. A copy of Eric Fenby's Delius in the Faber series of ‘The Great Composers’ lay among the books on music in my grammar school library at Buckhurst Hill, though I suspect its presence was due to my most enlightened and gifted music master, John Rippin. Such teachers make a lifetime of difference. After communicating an interest in this unfamiliar composer, I was plied with scores and records of numerous Delius works. I particularly remember being given a ten-inch LP recording of Anthony Collins's interpretation of The Walk to the Paradise Garden and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, recordings which I still hold dear. Before I was sixteen, however, I had come to know the Songs of Sunset (with John Shirley Quirk and the immortal Janet Baker), the Requiem, Paris (a work I have always loved for all its unevenness), the Dance Rhapsodies, A Village Romeo and Juliet, In a Summer Garden and The Song of the High Hills. Through Rippin’s careful tutelage, I read Eric Fenby's Delius As I Knew Him by which I became acquainted with A Song of Summer, Cynara, the Violin Sonata No. 3 and the Songs of Farewell. With John I made the pilgrimage to the grave at Limpsfield and I also had the chance to meet Fenby, just before he was about to fly out to Jacksonville in 1978 to receive an honorary degree and also at the Bracknell Festival where he appeared in the capacity of conductor. My last meeting with Fenby was just before I was about to begin my PhD in 1980. As a sales assistant in the Toys Department of John Lewis in Oxford Street, I encountered him one afternoon when he appeared with a grandson, looking for a small bicycle with stabilisers. After the transaction was completed, I think he was most bemused to confront an unassuming sales assistant interested in Delius, but who also recognised him as the composer's amanuensis! I shall never forget this kind man, and how he expressed such an interest in my own research (at that time, on Parry) on which I was about to embark.
The publication of the Shelley Songs by Augener was undoubtedly a welcome development for Delius, but there seemed little prospect of hearing anything of his orchestral labours. Even though he attended the Lamoureux concerts and acquainted himself with performers at the Paris Conservatoire, the French concert scene seemed closed to him. It may indeed have been this particular circumstance – the need to be ‘in the thick of things’ – that persuaded him to move from Croissy to a rented apartment at 33 rue Ducouëdec in the Montrouge quarter, now in the southern suburbs of Paris. This would be his home for several years. From there the centre of Paris was only two-and-ahalf miles, and even closer was Montparnasse where, in regularly frequenting Madame Charlotte's crémerie for a cheap meal, he would socialise with his artist friends Gauguin, Mucha, Monfreid, Slewinski, the Molards, Charles Boutet de Monvel and Munch.
Although songs and the less complex, smaller movements of his suites and the more diminutive symphonic poems had been useful loci for stylistic experimentation, Delius was clearly aware that, after the less developed exercise of the melodrama Paa Vidderne, he had yet to attempt a larger, more testing symphonic canvas for orchestra. Conscious, perhaps, that the melodrama had its flaws, Delius returned to Ibsen's poem but now with the intention of composing an entirely new concert overture with the same title. The first draft of the overture was completed sometime before the end of 1890, since a letter from Grieg states: ‘I should love to hear your overture ‘På Vidderne’. It seems that the score was in the possession of Iver Holter, conductor of the Christiania Musikforening at the end of 1890, but was received too late to be included before Christmas. Holter then asked if he could retain the score and parts with a view to performing the work in the autumn of 1891. Holter carried out his promise and performed it on 10 October 1891. Delius, who extended his stay in Norway to hear it, was there with Grieg and Sinding.
By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Delius was enjoying an acclaim about which he might only have dreamt ten years before. A Mass of Life had finally been heard in its entirety both in England and Germany, and the prospects of further performances seemed good. Appalachia had been performed in Hamburg; A Village Romeo and Juliet had been produced under Beecham's supervision at Covent Garden; Schuricht directed Sea Drift in Wiesbaden, Brigg Fair was given in Zürich and, as one of Delius's most popular works, was programmed in many major cities across Europe; there were also invitations from Bartók and Kodály, admirers of the Mass, to visit Budapest. In England his music was now a regular source of interest thanks to the support of his devotees such as Bantock, Beecham, Gardiner, O’Neill, Grainger and the youthful Philip Heseltine, still an Eton schoolboy. And in America, his ties with the plantation at Solana Grove were finally cut after it was sold to his old German friend and confidant, Hans Haym, whose son entertained aspirations to be a farmer. Furthermore, in spite of difficulties with one of his principal publishers, Harmonie Verlag (which caused him to go to law), his music was now widely available in print which in itself helped to nourish its continued performance. Yet, a dark cloud hung over his life which now seemed set so fair, in that the syphilis contracted as a young man now began to manifest its tertiary symptoms as he reached the age of 50, a reality confirmed when he visited the sanatorium at the Swiss resort of Mammern for a cure. Delius was unhappy at Mammern and hoped for something more positive when he entered another sanatorium in Dresden at the end of 1910. The prognosis was a major source of concern for Jelka and his friends though it is a testimony to Delius's fortitude that he recovered sufficiently to return to composition. There was still much music in him, and he was anxious to spend his creative time in Grez and in Norway to make progress with new orchestral and choral works as well as a new opera.
Yet it was Beecham who noted that, with the composition of The Song of the High Hills (see Chapter 12), ‘there was a certain austerity of manner that we have not encountered before’.