OTR regrets that his attention has been pulled away from his blog these last two months. One result has been the passage of several birthdays of those who have helped define our culture and, in no small part, shaped what makes OTR sit up and listen.
This is what we have missed: the photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, on January 1; the American singer/composer Iris DeMent and her enchanting voice, on January 5; Carl Sandburg, the Lincoln interpreter, voice of the Chicago image, the rough-handed working man, on January 6; the unsurpassed duo of Django Reinhart, January 23, and Stephane Grappelli, January 26, who gave us the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934; the English composer, Frederick Delius, January 29, who wrote some of the most beautiful, unique and difficult music in the western world; the mathematician/composer Philip Glass, January 31; and the Bambino at the bat, Babe Ruth, on February 6.
That's a long list, and OTR would have loved writing at length about every one of them. In all honesty, if he were to pick one individual it would be most difficult, but the honors would likely go to Frederick Delius, a remarkable force in music that has been a part of his life since 1968.
He remembers sitting at home in front of the old RCA color television console with his dad and certainly not anticipating any earthshaking entertainment. Suddenly he's hearing music the likes of which he has never heard before. In the next hours, watching Ken Russell's Song of Summer, the story and music of Delius's last years become a part of his world.
Delius is an interesting character in western music. He patterned much of his music after that of his friend and fellow composer, Edvard Grieg, but tempered it with English impressionism, his love of naturalism, and folk themes he heard among African American working on his father's grapefruit plantation near Solano Grove, Florida. The result was simply beautiful, but I think appropriately described as an acquired appreciation. In some respects, one could say that Delius has left us The Calculus of music. Here is an opportunity to explore The Calculus at its best as interpreted by Delius's close friend and advocate, Sir Thomas Beecham:
Years ago, I had the opportunity to sit alone on a dock watching the sunset across the St Johns River not far from Solano Grove. This music was in my head, and all the beauty of La Florida was in my heart. Delius had likely walked the river edge, watching the same sun glistening on the water, hearing the insects and the wind rustling the reeds and nearby palmettos, feeling the evening move over the landscape. It was an immersive experience for me. Events like that become fixed in memory and compel you to share them with those you love.
I suppose there is a story much like this one behind all of the shapers of the American experience that I have forgotten over the last eight weeks. That realization tells me it is much too precious to ignore the biographies that have made us what we are and what we will become. OTR promises to do better in the coming weeks.
For those who find Delius to their liking. I offer this as a somewhat deeper excursion into his complex world: