The composer, Frederick Delius, was born on this day in Yorkshire, England, in 1862. At 24, he lived the classic story of breaking away from the family business - woolen textiles - to pursue a love for the arts, in this case, music. The break first took him to Solano Grove and an citrus plantation on the banks of the St. Johns River south of Jacksonville, Florida. Later, he would teach music in Danville, Virginia, before returning to Europe for formal education in Germany. He took the sounds of American culture with him. In 1888, he settled in Paris, later married the painter, Jelka Rosen, and devoted his life to composition.
Delius belongs to no school, follows no tradition and is like no other composer in the form, content, or style of his music.
Almost a century later I think that quote remains intact. The impressionistic style may align him with the English school but he has a significant place in American music history having been the first classical composer to use musical themes of black Americans in the South. Those themes appear in several of his composition more than forty years before George Gershwin and Porgy and Bess. All of his work is rich, melodic, and complex. It is demanding music for the conductor, performer and listener alike, and music that demands an acquired appreciation. Today, his appreciation and popularity continue to grow but I believe he remains a relatively obscure figure in 20th century music outside of Great Britain.
The occasion of the 150th birthday of the composer in 2012 gave rise to several special programs, concerts, and documentaries. The best of the lot in my opinion is filmmaker John Bridcut's BBC documentary, Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma. Granted it is ninety minutes long but it is first-rate work in every respect and a far better way to explore Delius than to read about him. I hope you will take the time to watch even if you have to do it in two or three segments. If you enjoy the classics and American music history you will not be disappointed.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to sit alone on a dock watching the evening move over the St. Johns River landscape not far from Solano Grove. Delius's music was in my head and all the beauty of "Old Florida" was in my heart. He had likely walked the river's edge at that very place, watched the same sun glistening on the water, heard the worker's songs blending with those of insects and the wind rustling the reeds and nearby palmettos. It was an immersive experience for me. Events like that become fixed in memory. They emerge as compelling memories meant to be shared. I'm more than happy to share this one and encourage readers to continuing exploring its subject.
Music is a cry of the soul. It is addressed and should appeal instantly to the soul of the listener. It is a revelation, a thing to be reverenced.Frederick Delius
Photos and Illustrations:
Delius portrait, by his wife, Jelka Rosen, painted in Grez-sur-Loing, France, 1912. Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne, Australia
Text:The Delius Society, website and Facebook page
Before the Champions: Frederick Delius' Florida Suite for Orchestra, Mary E. Greene., M.A. Thesis, University of Miami, 2011
Radio Swiss Classic, Frederick Delius
wikipedia.org,, Frederick Delius