DELIUS: Paris / Brigg Fair / Eventyr / Irmelin / La Calinda (Murray Khouri/ Myer Fredman/ New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553001)
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Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)
Paris: Nocturne, The Song of a Great City
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody
Eventyr (Once Upon a Time), ballad after Asbj?©rnsen
Frederick Delius was born in the Northern English industrial city of Bradfordin 1862 into a family of German extraction, and joined his father's business,once his schooling was over. Unsuited to the career his father had intended forhim, he borrowed from his father enough money to set himself up in a business ofhis own, as an orange plantation owner in Florida. Here he was able to furtherhis musical interests, notably with lessons from Thomas Ward in Jacksonville andby contact with the various musicians either living there or visiting the townin the winter months. He later moved to Danville in Virginia, abandoning hisplantation and seeking now to earn a living as a musician. It was at this timethat his father agreed to allow him to train as a musician at LeipzigConservatory, which Delius entered in the summer of 1886, studying with Reinecke,Jadassohn and Sitte and forming an important friendship with Grieg. It wasthrough the latter that paternal support was extended to Delius, allowing him tomove to Paris and settle there as a composer. His meeting with the young painterJelka Rosen led to a liaison. In 1897 they set up house together inGrez-sur-Loing and married in 1903.
Much of the rest of the life of Delius was spent at Grez-sur-Loing. Duringthe war years it was necessary to take refuge in England, a time of somedifficulty in the absence of the usual royalty payments from Germany. After thewar he returned to France, but gradually succumbed to the effects of syphilis,possibly contracted in America, suffering blindness and paralysis. For the lastsix years of his life he was assisted in his composition by the youngYorkshire musician Eric Fen by, who served as his amanuensis. He died in 1934.
As a composer Delius won considerable support from influential musicians,among whom the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was of great importance. Three ofhis early operas were performed in Germany in the years before 1914 andorchestral works, in a very personal idiom that owed something to Wagner andeven more to Grieg, first found an audience there, largely through the advocacyof Hans Haym, the young Music Director in Elberfeld (Wuppertal). Beecham proveda strong ally in England, where at first Delius was relatively neglected.
Nevertheless the Concerto for Violin and Cello for May and BeatriceHarrison had its first performance at the Queen's Hall in London in 1920,conducted by Henry Wood, while Albert Sammons had already, in 1919, introducedthe Violin Concerto to the London public in the same concert hall, withAdrian Boult. It is paradoxical that much of his earlier reputation had beenbuilt in Germany, although his music seems, for whatever reason, essentiallyEnglish in feeling, as his wife later maintained. As English a work as BriggFair, however, was first heard in Basle in 1907, Sea Drift, withwords by Whitman, in Essen and Appalachia and the Piano Concerto inElberfeld.
The strong advocacy of Sir Thomas Beecham, who had introduced a number of thecompositions of Delius to English audiences, culminated in 1929 with a DeliusFestival, an event that the composer himself attended. He was appointed aCompanion of Honour in the same year, a mark of official approval of hisachievement.
Paris: The Song of a Great city was completed in 1899 and first performedunder the direction of Hans Haym in Elberfeld, where audiences were soon dividedinto opponents and supporters of Delius. Paris was dedicated to Haym butwas not altogether favourably reviewed, any more than it was the following year,when Busoni conducted a performance in Berlin, critics in both places suggestingthat the work had the effect of the morning after a night out in Paris. The workis, with hindsight, characteristically evocative. It opens with a passageof gentle implication in which the bass clarinet is heard with a fragment ofmelody over double basses, timpani and double bassoon, with cellos divided intothree parts, leading to the entry of the oboe. The opening section, marked Adagio,leads to a Vivace of increasing excitement, growing then calmer, asit moves forward to an Adagio con espressione, introduced by the strings.
The night in Paris continues to bring further variety. There is an Allegrettograzloso passage and a march, before any excitement subsides intoreminiscences of the opening, followed by a sustained dynamic climax.
Delius wrote Brigg Fair' An English Rhapsody in 1907 and it was firstperformed in Basle in the same year under the direction of Hermann Suter,although printed editions claim a first performance for Liverpool, in 1908,under Granville Bantock. The work was dedicated to Percy Grainger, who claimedto have suggested the form, which he described as in the manner of apassacaglia. Headed Slow-Pastoral, Brigg Fair opens rhapsodically, withthe flute heard over harp arpeggios, to which muted strings add a characteristicharmonic background. The Lincolnshire folk-tune at the heart of the work,marked With easy movement, is introduced by the oboe, to be taken up andelaborated by the rest of the orchestra. A second long-drawn melody is entrustedto muted violins. The folk-song itself undergoes various changes, harmonic,rhythmic and textural, before the final climax and hushed conclusion.
Eventyr (Once Upon a Time) is described as after Asbj?©rnsen'sFolklore. Peter Christen Asbj?©rnsen and J?©rgen Engebretsen Moe, like theBrothers Grimm in Germany, collected Norwegian folk-tales, publishing them in aninfluential collection, Norske Folkeeventyr, setting a standard forsimple and straightforward Norwegian prose, while, like the Grimms, avoiding thevarious dialects in which they had heard the original stories. Eventyr wascompleted in 1917 and first performed under Henry Wood at the Queen's Hall on11th January 1919. It starts with a solemn air of mystery, the lower stringsanswered by the woodwind. The strings lead into the principal section of thework, moving on to an expressive melody. In a colourful and varied texture themusic proceeds, the thematic material re-appearing. A dynamic climax and a verysoft passage lead to the return of the principal themes in conclusion.
The opera Irmelin, written between 1890 and 1892 and the first attemptby Delius at the form, had no staged performance until 1953, when Beechamarranged its production in Oxford. The libretto, by Delius himself, deals withtwo elements, Princess Irmelin and her suitors, none of whom please her, and theswine-herd who eventually wins her heart. The Prelude, designed as anentr'acte for the later opera Koanga, makes use of four themes from the Irmelin.
The popular La Calinda, with its oboe solo, first appeared as part ofthe first movement of the Florida Suite of Delius, a work of 1887,revised two years later. Based on a negro dance, it later served its purpose inthe second act of the opera Koanga, the story of a voodoo prince soldinto slavery, based on an episode in a novel by the American writer GeorgeWashington Cable. The wedding-dance La Calinda was originally a dance ofsome violence, leading to hysteria, and therefore banned. In the FloridaSuite and again in Koanga it lacks anything of