Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 June 2021
A RETURN TO THE ORCHESTRA
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.