Yu Nakajima (Japan) and Bill Thompson (USA)

The work in question is "Legendes for Piano and Orchestra" by English composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934).     Delius gained musical inspiration from the two years he spent in the lush tropics of Florida during the 1880's, and he became well-known for his works inspired by the beauty of nature.    Delius started "Legendes" in 1890, but left it unfinished.   The work was published in a reduced format in 1997, but had never been performed or recorded.

Enter Bill Thompson of Texas, a CPA and controller by day and amateur musician and computer hobbyist by night.  Thompson, a long-time student of Delius' music and webmaster of a leading Delius website, believed that "Legendes" deserved to be heard.   He tackled the project of painstakingly entering each note of the music into the computer so that it could be heard in the MIDI format.

"MIDI turns your computer into an orchestral player piano.  The sound of each instrument is simulated, so that the finished product gives you an idea of how the music would sound as played by the full orchestra."

Based on the notations in the reduced score, Thompson assigned the parts to the various instruments.  Although the work was unfinished, Thompson resisted the temptation to add anything to the score.  "The manuscript just comes to stop at the end of a section.  The actual conclusion was never added.  Also, it is obvious in some sections that Delius left either the piano part or the orchestra part unwritten."  But Thompson felt that Delius fans would want to hear it just as Delius had left it.

Using the MIDI keyboard cabled to his PC, Thompson completed his MIDI version in February 2000.  But he was not completely happy with the sound.  "A MIDI file sounds different on every computer it is played on.  Every sound card produces a little different sound, so I really had no control over how good or bad "Legendes" would sound on their computer speakers.  Also, my current computer setup is not the greatest, so I was not able add in all the nuances of loudness and softness that the music needed."

Enter Yu Nakajima of Japan, university administrator and MIDI enthusiast.   "A mutual internet friend sent me a CD of Delius' music which was produced by Yu Nakajima using enhanced MIDI files.  I was really bowled over by the incredibly realistic orchestral sound he had achieved," said Thompson.

The two Delius fans made contact via e-mail.  "Thankfully Yu can communicate in English, because my Japanese is nonexistent!"  says Thompson.  Nakajima informed Thompson of his MIDI methods.  With superior hardware and software, Nakajima was able to produce MIDI files that included all the dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo.   In addition, each instrument sounded very much like the real thing.  As a final step, Nakajima converted his MIDI file into an MP3 file, "locking in" the sound so that it would sound exactly the same on any computer. His website is called "The Desktop Symphony Orchestra."

Thompson offered his MIDI file of "Legendes" to Nakajima, asking if he would be willing to enhance it using his superior system.  The answer was yes - in fact Nakajima already had a copy of the score!   A few weeks later, the project was nearing completion.

The final question became: how to end the piece?  As it stood, the orchestra alone ended on a final quiet chord, but Thompson and Nakajima agreed that the piece should have a big finish featuring the piano.  Nakajima hit upon the solution: the final orchestra chord was in the same key as the beginning of the work, so the first section was repeated for the finale.  Thompson recommended a big crescendo to the final chord.  This final sequence was the only addition to what Delius had written, and was based on the sound of how Delius had concluded several other similar works from his early years.  

The completed MP3 file was posted on Nakajima's website in March 2001, giving music lovers around the world the opportunity to hear "Legendes" by Frederick Delius in its first (and probably only) performance in digital orchestral sound.    The piece was recognized in 2001 by the "Nifty" Internet Service in Japan as the most popular download from its servers.  

Thompson and Nakajima went on to produce a rendering of  the previously unheard third movement of Delius' early Piano Concerto.   "This was a major undertaking, requiring untold hours of keyboard input," Thompson said.  The two musicians are currently working on another unfinished Delius work, the Rhapsodic Variations for Large Orchestra.    They hope to complete enough music for a full CD release of unknown Delius works.

According to Thompson, "all the hard work seems worth it when you hear a piece of unknown music for the first time in full orchestral sound.  There is so much buried musical treasure that deserves a hearing, and modern technology makes it possible."

To date, Nakajima and Thompson have collaborated on creating MIDI/MP3 recordings of the following Delius works:
Petite Suite No. 1
Petite Suite No. 2
Legendes for Piano and Orchestra
3rd movement of Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (Original Version)

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