Some Delius

When I first encountered the music of Frederick Delius way back when I was in college, the label "the English Debussy" was attached to him. That kind of thing always sounds like a bit of a putdown to me: you know, "sort of like, but not as good as the original." And that unfortunately is not a totally mistaken label. But it's not very useful, either. I suppose it arises from the small number of small orchestral pieces which are all most people, including me, ever hear of his music. 

In any case, I like him. Some years ago now I posted a few remarks about his music here, along with a YouTube video of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. I recall Janet saying that it sounded like 1940s film music--which it does, and to my mind that's not necessarily a bad thing, though if there was an influence it probably began with Delius, who died in 1934, and "Cuckoo" was written in 1912. The music of his that I know can fairly be described as dreamy: slow, sweet, quiet, rhapsodic, impressionistic (whatever that means, but if it's true of some of Debussy it's true of Delius), loosely structured (or so it seems to me). 

My first thought upon discovering two LPs of Delius in the Fr. Dorrell haul was that I might not need to keep them. I already had one CD of his music, and I like it a lot. I figured the chances were good that most or maybe even all of the music on the LPs is on the CD. And surely there would be enough duplication between the two LPs that I would only need to keep one of them.

Wrong. In fact the contents of the three don't have all that much overlap. Most importantly, both of the LPs include a really fine and substantial piece that is not on either of the other two collections. 

Music of Delius, Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Capitol SG7116.

Brigg Fair; A Song Before Sunrise, Marche Caprice; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring; Summer Night On the River; Sleigh Ride (Winternacht); Intermezzo (from "Fennimore and Gerda")

In A Summer Garden: Music of Frederick Delius, Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra. Angel S-36588

In A Summer Garden; Intermezzo and Serenade from "Hassan"; A Song Before Sunrise; La Calinda from "Koanga"; On Hearing the First Cuckoo In Spring; Summer Night On the River; Late Swallows

The big discovery here for me, both LPs considered, is Brigg Fair. Based on a folk song, it seems to me worthy of comparison with conceptually similar works by Vaughan Williams and Butterworth. On the other LP, the title piece is the find, and although I don't like it quite as well as Brigg Fair, it's certainly a very fine one. In comparison to most of the short pieces which, as I mentioned, seem to be the ones most remembered from what is actually a quite large body of work, both these works are "long"--in the fifteen minute range. 

The CD I mentioned is called Delius: Miniatures, Norman del Mar conducting the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. There are three pieces which are on all three albums: Cuckoo, A Song Before Sunrise, and Summer Night On the River. I conjecture from that fact that you will find them on most any collection of Delius's shorter works. I didn't make any attempt to do a direct comparison of the performance of any one piece among the three, but it did cross my mind that the Beecham version of Cuckoo has a sort of...burgeoning quality that the others do not. Beecham was an advocate for the composer and seems to be generally considered at minimum one of the best conductors of his music. 

Aside from those three pieces, and the two discoveries, all the other works on the two LPs are quite brief but very pleasing. Worthy of particular mention is the music from "Hassan," which includes a lovely wordless tenor serenade. According to the liner notes, it's "rarely heard." But then that was written decades ago.

The Beecham recording is older by about a decade (1958 vs. 1969, it appears), and recording technology improved a good bit during that time. Still, as with most of these LPs from the '50s, I think the quality of this one is very decent. I would be surprised if all these performances weren't still available in some form, but Beecham's work in particular has been re-packaged and re-issued in so many forms that it might not be easy to find these specific sets.

Here's what seems to be the same Beecham recording I have, though the jacket that appears in this video is very different from mine and doesn't appear to be on Capitol. Some migration of licenses over the years or between nations, I guess. 


Minor Novels Argument-Starter

If you don't read the blog called "Prufrock" at The American Conservative, you probably should. It's an always-interesting compendium of mostly literary and general cultural stuff. Monday's post included a list of "recommendations of favorite minor novels." There are dozens of them, of which I've read seven. Many I'd never heard of. A few I think I may have read decades ago. Of course there's no arguing with anyone's designation of a favorite, but there are many possibilities for arguing with "minor." I'm thinking there of promotions from minor to major, but I suppose one might argue that this or that book doesn't even rise to the level of minor.

For my part, of the seven I've (definitely) read, the only one for which I'd argue "major" is Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Some are questionable, but that's the only one that would cause me just to shrug and feel sorry for anyone who disagrees.

There's one on the list I'd recommend strongly to Catholics: J.F. Powers's Morte d'Urban. Especially Catholics who've worked for small Catholic liberal arts colleges. 

An Advent Gripe

Not about, but on the occasion of: the complaint I made last year about the thing called "Holiday":

The American Christmas has always, or at least since the middle of the last century or so, had its secularized aspect. That was fine: we were a predominantly Christian country, but plenty of people who did not celebrate the religious holiday as such found much to enjoy in the cultural paraphernalia. Irving Berlin gave us "White Christmas," which no decent person could dislike or resent, and he was Jewish. Notice, though, that he didn't shy away from using the word "Christmas." From an early age I had a sense that something was missing when the decorations and greetings and such of the season left out any mention whatsoever of Christmas itself. And at a not so early, but not very late, age it occurred to me that "the holiday season" would lose the essence of its charm if the religious core of it were removed.

Well, that has pretty much happened now as far as public speech is concerned.

"Middle of the last century"? I must have meant to say the 19th. It certainly predated the middle of the 20th. But anyway:

The good part of this is that as I lose interest in Holiday I take more notice of Advent.

Which I'm currently doing.