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Thread: Frederick Delius

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    Default Frederick Delius



    Frederick Delius was an English composer who forged a unique version of the Impressionist musical language of the early twentieth century. He was born in Bradford, England, in 1862, and died in Grez-sur-Loing, France, in 1934. He did not come from a musical family; rather, his father owned a wool company and hoped that his son would follow a career in business. Delius, however, wanted to study music, and though his father did not approve of music as a profession, he did not discourage music-making as a pastime; thus, Delius was allowed to study the violin and the piano. To his father's dismay, he also spent much of his youth sneaking away from school to attend concerts and opera performances. When he completed school, he went to work for his father in the family business. In 1884, he left England for Florida, where he worked on a plantation as an orange grower. While in Florida, he began studying music with Thomas Ward, a musician and teacher from Jacksonville. Delius proved to be a failure as an orange grower, and began supporting himself as a musician. In 1886, his father arranged for him to spend a year and a half studying music in Germany at the Leipzig Conservatory. Though Delius would later insist that he learned very little of importance during his stay in Leipzig, it was there that he met Grieg, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship. Grieg convinced Delius' father to allow the young man to become a composer, and Delius, with the support of his formerly reluctant father, soon moved to Paris and began living the life of an artist.

    Once in Paris, Delius began composing in earnest, and towards the end of the nineteenth century had already completed two operas, Irmelin and The Magic Fountain. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Delius married the painter Jelka Rosen and produced a number of important works, including the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, the large-scale choral works Appalachia and A Mass of Life (based on the writings of Nietzsche), a piano concerto, and a number of songs and chamber pieces. His music was well-received throughout Europe, and Delius was quite successful up until World War I, when he was forced to leave France for England. Despite his renown in continental Europe, Delius was virtually unknown in his native England, and his stay there was marred by financial difficulties. After the war, Delius returned to France, where the syphilis he had contracted in Florida gradually caused him to become paralyzed and blind. Ironically, as Delius became increasingly infirm, his fame began to spread. This was due in large part to the efforts of English composer Sir Thomas Beecham, who championed Delius' music and organized a Delius Festival in 1929. Though terribly ill, Delius nonetheless still wanted to compose, and in 1928 enlisted the services of English musician Eric Fenby, to whom he dictated music (Fenby would later write a book about Delius). Towards the end of his life, Delius was made Companion of Honor by King George V of England, and was awarded an honorary degree in music by Oxford University. Before his death, Delius was able to hear his music over the radio and on record, but these accomplishments paled before the terrible deterioration of his health, and he died in seclusion.

    (Article taken from All Music Guide)


    What do you guys think of this very underrated composer? He was an English impressionist that produced some very outstanding and singular works in his time. He was a very unique composer.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JTech82 View Post
    What do you guys think of this very underrated composer? He was an English impressionist that produced some very outstanding and singular works in his time. He was a very unique composer.
    I agree about the uniqueness - he's often instantly recognisable, isn't he? And he's a composer that I've always felt I should be drawn to, and yet somehow I've never been able to get him to work for me. I think this is primarily because I never quite know what to do with the 'impressionist' style - I have the same sort of restricted response to Debussy. While I'm listening, I don't seem to have any feel for where we're going, or why. I hasten to point out that I'm talking here about limitations in my own responses - and not making any judgement on the music itself.

    I can't claim to an extensive knowledge of his work - I've tended to work on the assumption that if I struggle with pieces like Brigg Fair and First Cuckoo, then there isn't much hope for me with the other stuff. That said, though, I do have some interesting historic recordings of the Harrison Sisters playing Delius: May Harrison playing the Violin Sonata no.1, with Arnold Bax on piano (how about that for a combination!!?), and Beatrice Harrison playing the Cello Sonata with Harold Craxton on piano. I know they both loved Delius's stuff, and he wrote work specifically for them, I believe. But despite my own love and admiration for Beatrice Harrison, which encourages me to keep trying, I don't make any headway. I wish it were otherwise.

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    To me, it's a matter of structure. On the second-to-second level the music of Delius can be beautiful and arresting, but overall it never seems to work for me. This is why for me the smaller works are the most successful. The larger works don't work for me unless the music is forced into a particular form, as it is in the Mass of Life. That work does seem to be rewarding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    I agree about the uniqueness - he's often instantly recognisable, isn't he? And he's a composer that I've always felt I should be drawn to, and yet somehow I've never been able to get him to work for me. I think this is primarily because I never quite know what to do with the 'impressionist' style - I have the same sort of restricted response to Debussy. While I'm listening, I don't seem to have any feel for where we're going, or why. I hasten to point out that I'm talking here about limitations in my own responses - and not making any judgement on the music itself.

    I can't claim to an extensive knowledge of his work - I've tended to work on the assumption that if I struggle with pieces like Brigg Fair and First Cuckoo, then there isn't much hope for me with the other stuff. That said, though, I do have some interesting historic recordings of the Harrison Sisters playing Delius: May Harrison playing the Violin Sonata no.1, with Arnold Bax on piano (how about that for a combination!!?), and Beatrice Harrison playing the Cello Sonata with Harold Craxton on piano. I know they both loved Delius's stuff, and he wrote work specifically for them, I believe. But despite my own love and admiration for Beatrice Harrison, which encourages me to keep trying, I don't make any headway. I wish it were otherwise.

    The "impressionist" style is hard to get into if you're not willing to develop an ear for it. It isn't straightforward like Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, or Elgar. At least with the impressionist movement we're still dealing with tonality, but take somebody like Ravel he started using scales in his pieces like Aeolian, Phrygian, Dorian, and Mixolydian. The way he used them was very different at that time, but of course, Ravel wasn't just an impressionist, he made some other very straightforward pieces. Debussy also did some very different things in his music by using pentatonic and whole tone scales. There is also a very raw and abstract feeling to Debussy that I find very refreshing.

    Delius' music is merely an extension of what was going on with Debussy and Ravel, but he blended chromatic and pentatonic type of tonalities together and also experimented with different kinds of rhythms like those found in Africa. Since he was English, there was also some of that aesthetic to his music as well.

    Delius, like Debussy, Ravel, and all other composers labeled in this style of composing, is not for everyone. But I do like much of his orchestral works, they are just so beautiful in their execution of ideas and the overall atmosphere of his pieces are refreshing, especially after listening to Shostakovich or Bruckner all day!

    But of all my favorite impressionist, Ravel is still my favorite. Not because of the meticulous structure found in his pieces, which was a glaringly obvious contrast to Debussy's more rawer approach, but because the most beautiful melodies that are found in his music, he is simply one of my favorite composers of all time.
    Last edited by JTech82; Mar-04-2009 at 20:49.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTech82 View Post
    The "impressionist" style is hard to get into if you're not willing to develop an ear for it.
    It not so much an unwillingness in my case - more a matter of knowing that an awful lot of concentrated listening is going to be needed if I'm to make any headway (with no guarantee of success, of course). To some extent I'm taking the lazy road: I'm finding, right now, Handel operas so unexpectedly beguiling and their enjoyment so relatively effortless, that I'm reluctant to embark on something that I know will be a trudge - initially, at least. I guess I'm waiting for the day when I hear a chunk of Delius and somehow, it clicks into place. I know it often happens that way for me - for instance, I wouldn't have given you tuppence for a Handel opera just a year ago. It's a matter of going with the flow.

    Delius, like Debussy, Ravel, and all other composers labeled in this style of composing, is not for everyone. But I do like much of his orchestral works, they are just so beautiful in their execution of ideas and the overall atmosphere of his pieces are refreshing, especially after listening to Shostakovich or Bruckner all day!
    I have no difficulty at all believing this. The atmosphere created is often very effective and very lovely; my problem is that it loses my attention quite quickly (which of course is my problem, not Delius's or Debussy's). Someone once said about William Morris's poetry that it's like wallpaper - there seems no reason why it should ever stop. That's the kind of feeling I get with these impressionists. I suspect it's something to do with a limitation in my ability to carry a tune. Unless the tune and its development are very clear (you were right to pick up on the straightforwardness of Elgar in that respect), I lose my way - and lose interest.

    It's likely that there will come a day when suddenly I shall see (hear?) the light; then I'll come here enthusing about First Cuckoo, and you'll be able to smile benignly and say 'I told you so...'

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    It not so much an unwillingness in my case - more a matter of knowing that an awful lot of concentrated listening is going to be needed if I'm to make any headway (with no guarantee of success, of course). To some extent I'm taking the lazy road: I'm finding, right now, Handel operas so unexpectedly beguiling and their enjoyment so relatively effortless, that I'm reluctant to embark on something that I know will be a trudge - initially, at least. I guess I'm waiting for the day when I hear a chunk of Delius and somehow, it clicks into place. I know it often happens that way for me - for instance, I wouldn't have given you tuppence for a Handel opera just a year ago. It's a matter of going with the flow.



    I have no difficulty at all believing this. The atmosphere created is often very effective and very lovely; my problem is that it loses my attention quite quickly (which of course is my problem, not Delius's or Debussy's). Someone once said about William Morris's poetry that it's like wallpaper - there seems no reason why it should ever stop. That's the kind of feeling I get with these impressionists. I suspect it's something to do with a limitation in my ability to carry a tune. Unless the tune and its development are very clear (you were right to pick up on the straightforwardness of Elgar in that respect), I lose my way - and lose interest.

    It's likely that there will come a day when suddenly I shall see (hear?) the light; then I'll come here enthusing about First Cuckoo, and you'll be able to smile benignly and say 'I told you so...'

    Well I think it's good to know that you're making an effort to listen and not just dismiss him altogether for some reason that has nothing to do with the music.

    I'm a very open listener, but there are some things that I don't like and have made a strong effort in trying to understand. Some of them are Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Hindemith, among others. I find their work to be too intellectual and not emotional enough for me.

    But my tastes vary from Saint-Saens, Liszt, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Sibelius, Nielsen, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Ravel, Debussy, Mahler, Bruckner, Barber, Bax, Dvorak, Langgaard, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, among others are my favorite composers.

    It's all a matter of tastes and personal preferences and what you get out of the music that dictates whether you'll like it or not.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTech82 View Post
    Well I think it's good to know that you're making an effort to listen and not just dismiss him altogether for some reason that has nothing to do with the music.
    I'm aware that every negative decision I make about any music (or any art) can only be provisional. I spent too much of my time, years ago, declaring an aversion for this or that, only to discover, much later, that aversion had turned to admiration - even passion. Sometimes it's not the trying that's the problem - it's the timing. Five years ago I'd have been quite unable to find emotion in Handel, no matter how hard I tried. Yet here and now, his music frequently has me on the edge of tears, and all that's happened is the passage of time: more experience of life? physiological changes? Who knows?

    Meanwhile, I have my secret weapon up my sleeve: my Beatrice Harrison CD. If anyone can persuade me to enjoy Delius, Beatrice and her cello can do it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    I'm aware that every negative decision I make about any music (or any art) can only be provisional. I spent too much of my time, years ago, declaring an aversion for this or that, only to discover, much later, that aversion had turned to admiration - even passion. Sometimes it's not the trying that's the problem - it's the timing. Five years ago I'd have been quite unable to find emotion in Handel, no matter how hard I tried. Yet here and now, his music frequently has me on the edge of tears, and all that's happened is the passage of time: more experience of life? physiological changes? Who knows?

    Meanwhile, I have my secret weapon up my sleeve: my Beatrice Harrison CD. If anyone can persuade me to enjoy Delius, Beatrice and her cello can do it.

    You know, Elgarian, you ask some very good questions. I guess as we get older our tastes do change somewhat, but I've always been into the Romantic period. This music to me has the most emotion or at least in my opinion it does.

    I used to not enjoy Mozart that much, but as I got older I'm able to appreciate him more and more, especially his later works like his symphonies.

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    I tell you who you'd love, JTech - that's Herbert Howells - if you're interested, I shall openly recommend his requiem.

    Takes that beautiful mystic English music that you seem to love so much to the next level of harmonic interest and development. For once I'm not being ironic.
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bach View Post
    I tell you who you'd love, JTech - that's Herbert Howells - if you're interested, I shall openly recommend his requiem.

    Takes that beautiful mystic English music that you seem to love so much to the next level of harmonic interest and development. For once I'm not being ironic.
    Thanks Bach. You know I've read a lot about Howells and heard a lot of stuff about him. I'll definitely check him out.

    Yeah, you're not being ironic, are you feeling okay?

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    I must take a lie down. My unrelenting Britishness is cocking up
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bach View Post
    I must take a lie down. My unrelenting Britishness is cocking up
    Yeah go lie down. You're not sounding like yourself.

    I bet you and I would be friends in real life, especially since you're a composer. I'm a composer too, but I always considered myself an improviser first and foremost.

    Perhaps one day I will be improvising a solo to one of your pieces? Who knows.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTech82 View Post
    I guess as we get older our tastes do change somewhat, but I've always been into the Romantic period.
    So was I, for a very long time: weaned on Elgar, RVW, Sibelius; grew into Wagner and Puccini; later Massenet and his pals. So for a long time I thought I was a Late Romantic through and through. Yet these days, you're more likely to find me sighing with longing over Couperin, Charpentier, Rameau, Mondonville, or Handel - so I was completely wrong about myself. Or at least, only partly right.

    I really don't want to admit it, and I never thought it would ever happen, but these days I can find Wagner a bit 'too much': sledge-hammer emotion, bullying me into acceptance of it, rather than seducing me into it. Fortunately, my love of Elgar remains unaltered.

    This music to me has the most emotion or at least in my opinion it does.
    I suppose that's part of the character of this big, complicated, and often hard-to-define thing called 'Romanticism'. It's no less true of painting than of music. Turner's 'Romantic' Fighting Temeraire seems to flood its canvas with emotion, while Watteau's 'Baroque' Fêtes Venitiennes may seem fanciful, frothy, artificial and contrived. But it isn't. It just doesn't wear its heart on its sleeve. The delicate subtlety of its formal relationships is doing its work quietly, all the time one is looking at it attentively, and the tears can come without warning or explanation, and without understanding from where they come.

    And that is why one day I feel sure that Delius will get through: when I'm ready, even though I may not know it.
    Last edited by Elgarian; Mar-04-2009 at 23:37. Reason: links added

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    So was I, for a very long time: weaned on Elgar, RVW, Sibelius; grew into Wagner and Puccini; later Massenet and his pals. So for a long time I thought I was a Late Romantic through and through. Yet these days, you're more likely to find me sighing with longing over Couperin, Charpentier, Rameau, Mondonville, or Handel - so I was completely wrong about myself. Or at least, only partly right.

    I really don't want to admit it, and I never thought it would ever happen, but these days I can find Wagner a bit 'too much': sledge-hammer emotion, bullying me into acceptance of it, rather than seducing me into it. Fortunately, my love of Elgar remains unaltered.

    I suppose that's part of the character of this big, complicated, and often hard-to-define thing called 'Romanticism'. It's no less true of painting than of music. Turner's 'Romantic' Fighting Temeraire seems to flood its canvas with emotion, while Watteau's 'Baroque' Fêtes Venitiennes may seem fanciful, frothy, artificial and contrived. But it isn't. It just doesn't wear its heart on its sleeve. The delicate subtlety of its formal relationships is doing its work quietly, all the time one is looking at it attentively, and the tears can come without warning or explanation, and without understanding from where they come.

    And that is why one day I feel sure that Delius will get through: when I'm ready, even though I may not know it.
    I think the best music touches us regardless whether it's baroque, classicism, romantic, or 20th century.

    If you find enjoyment in it and can relate to it in some way, it's only going to touch your heart eventually.

    I completely wrote RVW off when I first heard him. I heard "Five Variants on Dives And Lazarus" and thought to myself "That's pretty..." but that was as far as it went, but as time went on, my appreciation and love for his music really grew, especially when I heard his "Concerto for 2 pianos and orchestra." That piece really just blew me away and still does. "Job" is also another piece that's just so beautiful to me. RVW's symphonies are also outstanding. The man has done some great work.

    Elgar, on the other hand, I loved immediately. It didn't take much convincing to enjoy his music.

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    Resurrecting this thread....

    My question is simple: why do you think people don't know much about Delius? Do you feel his music is an acquired taste? Is there something about his music that you just can't connect with?

    I loved Delius when I first heard him mainly because he's coming very much from that Impressionist style as Debussy and Ravel, but to my ears he's doing his completely own thing with it. He definitely had an ear for unique harmonies.

    It's a shame that he's not discussed more around here, but that can be said about many composers. Hardly nobody around here talks about Paul Dukas or Karol Szymanowski and that's a unfortunate. There are other composers besides the ones that all of us knows.

    Listening to three different versions of say Delius' "In A Summer Garden" by Hickox, Barbirolli, and Mackerras is an interesting experience because I know this piece so well and like all interpretations some conductors accent or feel strongly about a certain measure that the other conductor doesn't and so forth.

    That's the great thing about this music. It's open for different interpretations.

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