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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. 



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For some reason I've never given Delius a fair shake. I think it's because I didn't like him much when I first listened to him early on, finding him a bit too "impressionistic" for me, like Vaughan Williams through a Debussy filter. I should probably give him another go.

Oddly enough, I have a copy of Beecham's 'Brigg Fair' on 78's. I found it at a Half Price Books store some years ago for $2.00. The discs (two 12") are pristine, while the 'album' itself is a little worn, but not terribly so. From looking at the records I wouldn't be surprised to find that they were never played. Discogs does not have a release date for my set, but they show a similar set released in the UK in 1947, so I imagine the one I have is just the U.S. version of the same thing.

It might be said that Delius caught the tail end of romanticism and combined it with the impressionistic. A composer you may like, Mac, who did something of the opposite, was Ernest Chausson. Tragically, he died at a young age in a bicycling accident, but his music sits at the cusp of romanticism and the beginning of impressionism. Because of his early death he didn't write a lot of works (wikipedia has his opus number at 39), but quite a number of them are readily available. Along these same lines you might also like the music of Faure -- his chamber works are lovely, as is his well-known requiem.

I'm puzzled and slightly disturbed. A Chausson symphony was one of the first things I listened to out of the Fr. Dorrel trove, and I could have sworn I wrote about it here. I do remember what I was going to say about it, which was that I wasn't extremely keen on it, that it was in the "ok" class. And that the part (a movement I guess) that I liked the best was one that most resembled his more well-known work, the Poeme for violin (and orchestra?). But I can't find any mention of his name on the blog. It's not among the unpublished posts, either (of which I see there are more than I realized). So apparently I never actually wrote about it...wonder if I started it on paper, which I do sometimes....?... Anyway, that's my Chausson opinion.

I like Faure a lot. Many years ago I acquired an LP with his string quartet on one side and someone else's on the other, and liked it. I have a few other chamber works that I like but haven't really gotten to know, and I love the Requiem, as most people who've heard it do.

Delius can fairly be described as wispy in comparison to Debussy. But I like that. And I'm not sure if it's really the music or just the knowledge that he was English, combined with his titles, but the little pieces I'm talking about here seem very English. I'd be surprised if you don't like Brigg Fair.

I have an mp3 album of Delius songs which I haven't really listened to.

I bought a cheap record player recently in order to play the 78's I have. I've had most of them since I was a child (many of them were my grandmother's, or else gifts from various aunts and uncles who knew I liked records), and haven't heard them for 45 years at least, excepting the few that I found on youtube. I may very well listen to those 'Brigg Fair' records once I get the player set up, but if not I'll get the CD from the library. I believe I have a disc with some of Delius's shorter works on it but I can't locate it right now.

I suppose those are different performances from mine. I assume mine are contemporary with the disk in 1958, although the notes don't explicitly say so. And I don't think they were selling 78s by then.

I had some 78s at one time but they were in pretty bad shape and I don't think I ever played them, although the turntable I had for many years had a 78 setting. My current one, bought 10-15 years ago, does not. I don't even remember what they were now but I think they were family castoffs.

Yes, I don't think they would have used a 1940's recording for a late 50's LP. A lot had changed in recording in those 10-15 years.

I don't recall my parents ever listening to 78's - by the time I was old enough to pay attention they were listening to LP's. Although they liked music I don't remember them ever having any singles either. All their records were albums.

" I think they were family castoffs"

Mine were too -- just from other families. ;-) I had an uncle that must've known someone who worked at a radio station. He had a lot of "radio station copies" of albums and the ones he didn't like he often gave to me. He was into the country and folk of the time (early to mid-60's, mostly) but he seemed to be pretty picky about what he liked and didn't like. I remember his favorites were Eddy Arnold and Loretta Lynn. One year for Christmas he gave us a Loretta Lynn gospel album, which I remember liking.

I am a bad Southerner for never having much liked country music. For a long time I didn't even really connect then-current (1960s) country music with the "folk" music that I did like, even though there's a clear line of development. But I thought it went bad after 1960 or so. Still pretty much think that. Whenever I hear current country-pop I like it about as well as I do other commercial pop. Saints preserve me from hearing another song about driving down a dirt road in a pickup truck to a place in the woods by the old creek where good ol' girls and boys are drinking beer and dancing in the moonlight. These are probably written by people who grew up in the suburbs.

I heard a bit of a song the other day that seemed emblematic what's gone wrong: the singer was daydreaming about a perfect world and it included free Bud Light. And not just wrong with the music.

I never liked country much until I started hearing some of the "alt country" stuff that came out in the mid-90's. At that time the rock scene was dominated by grunge and that awful rock/rap stuff, so the rise of alt country was quite the respite. Just a couple days ago I listened to the Whiskeytown "Stranger's Almanac" album, and I still like it as much as I did when it came out in 1997. To my mind it's arguably the quintessential alt country record, although Uncle Tupelo's "Anodyne" and Son Volt's "Trace" are up there too.

I've never heard much of that stuff though what I have heard seemed pretty good. The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo was arguably the first alt-country album. Or maybe that group Gram Parsons had, which I never heard. Anyway I loved Sweetheart and it sort of woke me up to the fact that there were good songs in the more or less contemporary (at the time) country genre. I had been put off by the slickness of the Nashville stuff, the clothes, the hair, etc. Though I had bought a Johnny Cash album even before that, when I was in high school. Can't remember why and it surprises me now. But he was always a different breed.

True -- the 90's alt-country stuff was more of a resurgence than a product of an original movement or something. Those guys all knew the good "old school" country stuff pretty well.

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