Frederick Delius:
Devotion, Collaboration and the Salvation of Music

Emanuel E. Garcia, MD

(A presentation given on 23 October 2005 at The Philadelphia Ethical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

View the poster announcing this presentation
Hear the audio file of the 2nd Movement of Delius' 3rd Violin Sonata
Photo of pianist Elena Jivaeva & violinist Daniel Khalikov

Let me first of all welcome you to this wonderful auditorium and thank you for braving the night.  I hope I – and my conspirators, or should I say collaborators? – will have made it worth your while. Tonight should rightly be called a celebration; the program involves not only the spoken word (and not just mine – for we’ll have time for audience discussion), but also the visual arts and live music.

I’d like to introduce Mary Anne Bartley, who created these brilliant paintings in response to Delius’ music, which form the backdrop of the stage, and which you’ll have plenty of time to inspect more closely later.  Mary Anne has devoted her life to eliciting the creative artistic impulse not only from herself, but from others in every quarter, and she has recently received an Honorary Fellowship from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  Pianist Elena Jivaeva, a graduate of the Uzpensky school of music and the Tashkent State Conservatory in Uzbekistan and a staff pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music, is also a dedicated educator, devoting her time to the musical education of children.  And Daniel Khalikov, a pupil of Pinchas Zuckerman and  the first-prize winner of several prestigious competitions in the United States and Europe, joins Elena – who also happens to be his mother – in presenting a most beautiful work of music, and more!  So if my words bore you, you will still have plenty to look at and forward to!

For those of you who don’t know much about me, let me say a few words.  I am a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist and a passionate lover of music, and for the past decade I have been very lucky to have had the chance to work with many creative people in my practice, and to turn my scholarly attentions to matters involving creativity.  So it gives me greatest pleasure to be able to unite these two great interests of my life – psychological understanding and music – in this program tonight.

I’ll plan to speak for approximately an hour – feel free to stretch your legs if you get restless, or let your eyes wander over Mary Anne’s paintings if my ramblings become soporific; I do promise to intersperse my comments with a few audio excerpts, and at a certain point during my presentation Elena and Daniel will give us the rare treat of Delius’ 3rd  Sonata for Violin and Piano. When I’m through talking I’ll ask you members of the audience for questions and comments and responses and initiate what I hope will be a lively discussion.  We will close with a musical encore and then a reception upstairs, to which all of you are invited.

Frederick Delius …. How many here have heard a work of his in performance? An opera?  Well, despite such comforting aphorisms as ‘the cream always rises to the top’, Delius is a case of shamefully neglected genius.  Last year, for example, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed one brief piece … and they lumped this in with Elgar and other English music, which would have infuriated our composer.

When Captain Stormfield, a character in one of Mark Twain’s famously witty stories, visits heaven, he espies a long processional of the greatest authors of the planet earth.  At the very head of the procession was someone he couldn’t recognize at all, while behind this unknown personage solemnly walked Shakespeare, Dante and Virgil.  He inquired of his accompanying angel about this person, and the angel replied that the man was Billings, Billings of Tennessee.  “I’ve never heard of him,” replied Stormfield. “No matter,” replied the angel, “for he’s been judged to have written the greatest and most penetrating novels and dramas and poetry that’s come out of your little planet, and as you can see even Shakespeare gives him pride of place.  Unfortunately his work was so far advanced and misunderstood, the poor man could never find a publisher; his neighbors hounded him to no end… yet his creations are preeminent.”

There is a truth in this that applies most relevantly to Delius and of course to all those unknowns who are working away in dedication to their Muse, heedless of the distractions of false idols.  Delius did reach a penetration of public consciousness – as a result of a great deal of hard work and luck, for he was fortunate enough to have inspired a number of critical devotees, without whose help Delius would not simply be neglected, but completely unknown, and it would be our loss indeed, for at his best – and although he was not always at his best (who of us is?) – he wrote some of the most exquisite music to grace the human ear.

If I can persuade you of nothing else tonight except to listen anew to the music of this magnificent composer, then I will have succeeded completely. For my goal is not to foist my opinions onto you or to use brute force to attain agreement (in fact, what happens to a four year old when you compel him against his will to eat his spinach?) – no, my goal is simply to open the channels of inquiry, curiosity, and contemplation.  I recently interviewed the Dean of the Curtis Institute of Music) and asked what advice he would give the student of classical music: Bob Fitzpatrick’s reply was: “question everything!”  And so I invite you to question everything.

You know, there is a famous Latin saying, “De gustibus non est disputandum”, which roughly translated means: “if you’re stupid enough to disagree with my opinions you ought to be shot!”; perhaps more faithfully translated as “there is no arguing about matters of taste.” But it’s all wrong, for matters of taste are always arguable – it’s matters of facts that are no fun, or matters of country borders or law….Some of my fondest memories of youth are connected with arguments at the Victor Café over which vocal artist was best – for example, Gigli v Bjorling – and we spent many an hour playing and replaying records, arias head to head,  to prove or disprove a point.  Naturally, it was in great good fun and we were all the happier.

But I warn you: I will indeed be expressing musical opinions tonight!  In fact, I will not disguise the fact that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Scriabinist.  I consider the serendipitous discovery of Scriabin, which I made while investigating Rachmaninoff’s breakdown after the premiere of his First Symphony, one of the great gifts of late middle age; and furthermore, in spirit, there are very interesting and crucial parallels between the musical vision and qualities and approach of Scriabin and Delius, which must no doubt account for my attraction to the subject of my talk tonight, at least in part. For Delius was an original, a man who stuck without compromise to his artistic mission, and it was this dedication and ineffable vision that brought to him his devotees and brought to us such beautiful music.

I am not a particular fan of biography; and less so of so-called psychobiography.  At best the good biographies tell us about the times and places in which the great artist lived, hardly more.  They can never tell us about what exactly caused Delius, for example, to choose a certain chord or shape a phrase or add a particularly haunting orchestral flavor…. No, for these are the ineffabilities of the creative act.  We may hover around the edges, define conditions and preconditions, for example, but those moments of ultra-awareness, inspiration – whatever one calls them – these are irreducible and unpredictable: this is the terrain of creative genius.

Hagiography, which is what many biographies (and indeed entire academic departments) become, is really nothing less than a form of murder.  Why?  Because in so idealizing and idolizing a personality, it renders him or her inhuman and therefore false.  What so often happens is that a critic, a student will be tremendously moved by a musical composition or a novel and then look to the person who composed or wrote it for some kind of salvation, covering over every imperfection and demanding of the person a perfection in everyday living that only the creative work can give (and even here I must qualify my use of the word ‘perfection’).  To paraphrase Mark Twain, one of Delius’ favorite authors, Delius was human – which is about the worst thing you can say about anybody.

And as for his life – well I suppose I must supply some kind of biographical context – certainly not enough in our short space of time to do any justice – so it will have to be very succinct.  I am reminded of the parable of Voltaire about the young Persian monarch who accedes to the throne at an early age and is determined to become the best and most knowledgeable emperor who ever ruled.  So he instructs his wise men to gather up all the learning of humankind and report to him.  After ten years’ labor they come, with a hundred camels laden with scores of scrolls; but the emperor is undertaking a campaign and tells them to condense their learning. Another ten years pass and they return but this time with only 50 camels; it is still too much for the busy emperor …. And so it goes until at his very last campaign in old age, the last of the surviving scribes approaches him with his summary of human knowledge: “Man is born, he suffers, and then dies.”

Well, of Delius we can certainly say the same, but we may add that he experienced a tremendous amount of pleasure in addition, and he wrote an extraordinary amount of music.  Unlike in science, where we can be fairly sure that if someone misses an important observation another scientist will eventually discover it – in art the loss of a unique creation is irreplaceable and irreparable.  If there were no Delius there would be no Summer Night on the River, no Village Romeo and Juliet, no Sea Drift, no Mass of Life, pure and simple.

And if there were no Eric Fenby, there would be no Sonata No. 3 or Song of Summer, no Songs of Farewell, no Cynara…. This marvelous story, the story of how a sheltered young man helped a blind and paralyzed musician compose anew, deserves to be known, and deserves in being known to illustrate what I believe are critical ideas about the very nature of authorship and collaboration, the psychology of devotion and the human need to create.  But more of that anon.

Frederick Delius was born in Yorkshire in 1862, the fourth  of 14 (yes, 14) children.  His father was a German, described by Delius’ sister Clare as a household tyrant.  That he was, but he was also a successful wool merchant and a man whose household exposed his children to music of very high order: celebrities such as Joachim passed through to give private concerts.  Delius’ mother played the piano, had a penchant for penny-dreadfuls, and was rather cool – well, anyone who can give birth to 14 children deserves to behave in any manner – certainly not a warm maternal type. In fact, Delius described her as the ‘falsest of women’ and on hearing of  her death said the following, recorded by Eric Fenby:

“Mmm. A strange woman.  She never took the slightest interest in my music after I left Bradford as a young man.  I very much doubt if she ever heard a note of mine played.  And after my music began to be played, she made no enquiries about it.  She never met Jelka.  She never wrote.  And once when I tried, in her late eighties, when she was flying to Cologne and I could still get about, I went to Cologne especially to meet her. But she never turned up. There was no explanation.  A strange woman.  Go on reading, Eric” (Lloyd, S., p. 64).

Neither parent ever heard a note of their son’s music in performance.

Yet let us not be too hasty in judgment:  Delius never went wanting and was supported for many years by a stipend. As a youngster Delius was athletic, adventurous, risk-taking, and also musical. He took up the violin and piano and at least on the former instrument achieved fair enough mastery to have played the third movement of the Mendelssohn concerto in public.  He loved to improvise on the piano, encouraged by his mother, and his musical world was broken open by Chopin’s posthumous Valse.  (Delius admitted liking the music of very few composers other than his own, but it seems that Chopin, Wagner and Grieg were favorites).  The natural beauty of the English countryside made an indelible impression.

Delius’ father attempted in vain to engage his son in the family wool business; and in fact Delius probably possessed enough charm to have been quite successful.  But when it became clear that Delius would not tow the line, his father agreed to assist his son in purchasing a lot near Jacksonville, Florida of all places, which was to be cultivated as a commercial orange plantation: Solano Grove.  In 1884, at the age of 22, Delius’ life was about to take a momentous change of direction.

Florida for Delius was like Voyage of the Beagle for Darwin, or self-analysis for Freud, or the trip to Tahiti for Gauguin –we see this so often in the lives of the great, a transformative experience at a critical juncture that liberates the creative faculty and sets life on an irrevocably productive course. As Delius later told Fenby, “I was demoralized when I left Bradford for Florida … you have no idea of the state of my mind in those days.  In Florida, through sitting and gazing at Nature, I gradually learnt the way in which I should eventually find myself, but it was not until years after I had settled at Grez that I really found myself.  Nobody could help me.  Contemplation, like composition, cannot be taught” (Fenby, p. 164). It was during those relatively isolated and quiet months on the orange grove that Delius realized “he had something to say about life in terms of music that no one else could give or say” (p. 165).  And he had some help… in addition to the sultry physical surroundings, Delius was exposed to the society of recently freed slaves, African-Americans working the land – and making music the like of which he had never heard – improvising subtle and wondrous harmonies which would inspire him forever. He also very probably fell in love with a woman by the name of Chloe  (and I will speak much more of this a bit later on, making reference to the investigative work of violinist Tasmin Little).  It was very likely the one great romantic love of his life, and it was of course an impossible love.  This too is a common feature in the lives of the great, perhaps most lives; the first great romantic attachment tends to be the most intense and is inevitably doomed, and this I think is the subterranean message of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

While in Florida Delius happened to meet a man by the name of Thomas Ward, an organist from Brooklyn who, sensing no doubt something very special about Delius, taught him lessons in harmony and musical technique.  It was Ward who convinced Delius to attend the Leipzig conservatory, but Delius would forever proclaim that Ward far exceeded any of the instructors in Europe.  After a brief stop in Danville, Virginia,  where the young Delius was deemed a ‘professor’ of music and taught a bevy of local beauties, Delius convinced his father to support his education in Leipzig.

Well, Delius wasn’t much for classes, but in the city itself he was exposed to the greatest of European music – Mahler and Tchaikovsky passed through, as did Brahms, Nikisch, the Brodsky Quartet, etc., and Delius heard quite a bit of Wagner.  And Delius composed; he worked.  He was also very fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and Grieg, in addition to becoming friend and mentor, did two extraordinary things: first, he convinced Julius Delius of his son’s aptitude and the merit of his pursuit of music (and need for familial support); second, even more importantly, he imparted this advice to the young aspirant:  “If you will permit me, in the interests of your future, to offer you a piece of advice … it would be this, devote yourself now, while you are still young, fully to the pursuit of your art, rather than accept a formal position, and that you follow both your own true nature and the inner voice of your ideals  and your inclinations.  However, in order to achieve this it is essential that you choose the national and artistic environment as dictated to you by your genius”(Carley, p 13).  And from this course Delius never wavered.

After Leipzig Delius settled – if ‘settle’ is quite the word – in Paris, and there he broadened his social, artistic and sexual life considerably.  He counted some of the artistic giants of the age as his friends: playwrights August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen, painters Paul Gauguin and Henri Rousseau and Edvard Munch.  I have a hunch he fell more than a little in love with Gauguin – Gauguin the stockbroker-turned- adventurous-artist, that is, who traveled to Tahiti to find his own voice and whose painting “Nevermore” which graces our program’s flyer, was Delius’ one prized “material” possession.  It is rumored that he contracted syphilis from Gauguin’s Javanese mistress, whom he shared…. In any case, Delius frequented the brothels and immersed himself in the Parisian demimonde. He was quite the roué.   He even made weekly visits to the Morgue for a time….But unlike other self-professed artists who exhaust  their creative efforts in finding the correct angle of their berets at fashionable Left Bank cafes, Delius composed.   And in Paris he met the woman who would become his wife, helpmeet, devotee, artistic collaborator and savior: Jelka Rosen.

It is interesting to note that not a romantic word seemed to pass between them in correspondence.  Jelka was attracted to the man, naturally, but far more to what the man Delius was capable of artistically, and in their love of Nietzsche and celebration of independent creativity, they were mates.  Jelka was herself an artist of genuine talent.  Upon hearing one of Delius’ songs, she wrote that “the greatest yearning of humanity was expressed so beautifully, and I was overcome with the wonder of it all, that in my house this had been created, that Fred was so gifted and had all his life before him to create such beautiful things.  I resolved to give him all help and assistance in my power’ (Carley, p. 414).   And she was true to her word.

Delius and Jelka were officially married in 1903. Jelka had purchased a home in Grez-sur-Loing, a beautiful hamlet southeast of Paris, to which Delius repaired after he returned to Solano Grove in Florida in 1897 to pursue a possible business venture and very probably also seek Chloe, his first love, by whom he may have fathered a son.  (So attractive was Delius to the opposite sex that a society woman disguised herself as a man to gain entry to the ship on which he traveled!).  Marriage with Jelka was an artistically spiritual union; it is doubtful that they even consummated their marriage – owing not only to any physical antipathy on Delius’ part, but also because of Delius’ fear that he would contaminate Jelka with syphilis.  There were battles – after a bout of composition Delius would seek the demimonde of Paris for days at a time, to Jelka’s bitter complaints.  But the unkindest cut of all came when Delius accused Jelka of being ‘bourgeois’!

For the most part, however, in the decade from 1900 to 1910, amid the relative calm and beauty of Grez, Delius’ life took on a regularity and consistency that helped spawn a series of true masterpieces – Sea Drift, A Mass of Life, Songs of Sunset and Brigg Fair.  He traveled and tramped about the mountains of Norway and elsewhere, athlete that he was, and then….life changed irrevocably.  Thomas Beecham talks about 1910 as a turning point in Delius’ personality – a time when he became rather hard and cranky, and he attributes this hardness to the necessity for the first time in his life, having lost his familial stipends, to make his own living.  There was more to this change than that: after all, Jelka supported him and he was beginning to receive some royalties from his music.

But more importantly, more ominously, in 1910, Delius was diagnosed with tertiary syphilis.  There is now no doubt about the diagnosis.  In a letter of 15 July 1910 Ida Gerhardi, a friend of the Deliuses (and a one-time rival for Delius’ attentions) wrote to her mother that Delius had begun to experience pain in his spinal cord – the kind of pain that occurred to a cousin of Delius who thereafter “had a most miserable existence for 11 years.”  Ida wrote that Delius was so wretched and so in need of comfort, that he was so like a child in his (illusory) hope for a cure that he elicited indescribable pity from her.  In December of that year a Dr. Bothe from the sanatorium Weisser Hirsch near Dresden described Delius’ condition thus:
“About 1 year ago … he collapsed, i.e., there was a noticeable loss of strength; about the same time other pains occurred; arms, shoulders and in the area of the thorax, toes, repeated gastric crises; uneven yet reacting pupils, and indeed increase knee reflexes, reduced feeling of pain in the lower extremities … on the upper left thigh a tertiary syphilid.  Wassermann positive” (quoted in Jones and Heron, p. 5).

It may be difficult for us to imagine what this kind of diagnosis implied at the time, unless we look to the outbreak of HIV before current pharmacotherapy changed its course in developed countries.   Syphilis was a scourge, and syphilis which involved the nervous system, as it did in Delius’ case, meant a curtailed lifespan of ever-diminishing function, unpredictable deteriorations and excruciating pain, and quite possibly, as it was believed for Nietzsche at the time, a descent into frank madness.  For Delius it was a slow and inexorable diminution of his once formidable vigor.  The tramps through Norwegian fjords and the ability to imbibe Nature’s magnificence, the enjoyment of physical sensuality, and the energy needed to compose – all were seriously impaired.  He lived with the psychological burden of knowing that the joys he had once been able to taste would disappear – and painfully too; he lived in fear that the next moment could bring a massive debilitating stroke, or death.  Delius, who knew the great playwright Henrik Ibsen, would certainly have been familiar with Ibsen’s play Ghosts.  In it, the artist Oswald Alving is revealed to have syphilis: it is worth quoting here:

 Oswald: It [the illness] lies here, waiting.  And any time, any moment, it may break out.  I had one attack while I was abroad.  It passed off quickly.  But when I learnt the condition I had been in, then this dreadful haunting fear took possession of me.  Yes, it is so indescribably horrible, you know.  If only it had been an ordinary mortal disease … I am not so much afraid of dying … but this is so appallingly horrible.  To become like a helpless child again – to have to be fed, to have to be…. Oh, it’s unspeakable! I dare not think what I It would mean to linger on like that for years – to get old and grey…. Because it doesn’t necessarily have a fatal end quickly, the doctor said.  He called it a kind of softening of the brain – or something of that sort” (Act III).   And the play ends with the motionless Oswald saying the words “the sun—the sun.”

Yet with Jelka’s angelic ministrations he carried on.  The condition waxed and waned to a certain extent, but inevitably worsened.  He was suspicious of the medical establishment and pursued homeopathic remedies.  Ehrlich had pioneered the use of arsenicals with Salversan in 1909; but this in retrospect was of dubious efficacy and most certainly would have been of no use given the advanced nature of Delius’ condition.  He was becoming cranky, restless, jittery and argumentative; by 1917 he was hardly able to walk.  By 1921 both hands were paralyzed.  Yet he somewhat miraculously managed to continue to compose, eventually by dictating to Jelka – and just how Jelka, who was not a musician per se, managed to convey Delius’ creative ideas is itself an amazing mystery.  He completed his Requiem, the Violin Concerto and Cello Sonata during this time, and he composed anew A Song before Sunrise, the Cello Concerto and the incidental music to Hassan.  By 1925 he had become blind in both eyes.  Yet a bright note should be mentioned: a young conductor by the name of Thomas Beecham, had chanced to hear a rather poorly rendered performance of Appalachia in 1907 – and Beecham became instantaneously a disciple. Known as Delius’ greatest interpreter, for many years he worked tirelessly to bring the music of Delius to a wider public and for many years with nearly every concert he programmed one of Delius’ works: yet another Devotee, without whose efforts it is likely Delius would not be known at all to us today!

With his debility worsening he was unable to express what remained within his bosom to Jelka, who lacked the musical training to surmount the obstacles of his condition, and by 1928 he was blind and languishing in despair and pain, unable to finish the work of his life’s calling.

Fate struck again – but this time happily. A young self-taught musician hailing from Delius’ native Yorkshire was playing chess one evening with a friend and, if my memory serves me, about to be mated, when he chanced to hear the following performance over the wireless.  Now, if I may beg your indulgence – I’d like to play the seven minutes’ worth of music which young Eric Fenby heard that fateful night and which set him on a path that would change musical history.  I was told by an erstwhile ‘advisor’ that playing seven minutes of music would ‘lose’ an audience…. I hope you prove her wrong and that you allow yourselves to relax into the sonorities, and the world that lies beyond them, that mark the unique artistic vision of Delius.  And if you are moved to stretch your legs, please do so. The piece, written for small orchestra, is entitled “On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring”.

[Beecham/RPO recording played in full]


The 22 year old Fenby, highly musical, mainly self-taught and with perfect pitch, on the verge of preparing to enter a monastery at the time, was so taken, so overtaken by what he heard that, learning of Delius’ wretched condition, he found the courage to write a letter to him volunteering his services to help the great composer extract what creativity remained.  Jelka leapt at this unforeseen opportunity – and thus began what is probably the most poignant musical collaboration in our history.  This beautiful, this magnificent story, was immortalized by Fenby’s own memoir “Delius as I Knew Him” and by Ken Russell’s great film, Song of Summer.  For those of you who know the Ken Russell films about Tchaikovsky or Gauguin or Mahler – works of great excess, to put it kindly – Song of Summer is a masterpiece, utterly faithful to Fenby’s book, on which it was based, and when I first conceived of this project I thought simply of showing the film to an audience.  Yet as wonderful as the movie is – and I certainly encourage you to rent a copy – one is left with a too-narrow picture of Delius – the blind and paralyzed, bitter, egotistic, selfish, crotchety tyrant of a man – which by that time he certainly was. But this was not the all of him.

Tolstoy once wrote that all the goodness of a great artist is to be found in his/her works, leaving behind in the personality, the living human being, a plethora of difficult traits. Well, as Hamlet says,’ treat every man according to his desserts and who should ‘scape whipping’?  Delius was rather less destructive than many a creative genius in his personal life from what I can tell.  Happily, he was not a parent – he was clearly ill at ease around children, and his paternal relationship with Philip Heseltine, a.k.a. Peter Warlock, was not very helpful – according to Beecham it may have hastened Heseltine’s untimely and probably suicidal end.  In Fenby he and Jelka found, in a way, the child they never could have, and in the Delius household Fenby found direction for his life, though it would come at great cost- Fenby eventually suffered a nervous breakdown from the strain of his efforts.

The poor boy was isolated in a small village, in a most peculiar household that turned completely on ministering to Delius, operating like clockwork and obeying his every whim, honoring his every cantankerous wish, trying to soothe his every pain.  Jelka had endlessly engaged caretakers who would carry and read to Delius (Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were favorites).  Delius’s powers of concentration were erratic and generally poor and pain was apt to flare up and send him into writhing convulsions at any moment.

Fenby had first of all to prove his own musical abilities … and the first attempt by Delius to dictate music, resurrecting a theme from a barely started violin sonata years back, was disastrous.  Let us hear Fenby describe in his own words what happened:

[recording of Eric Fenby relating Delius’ first attempt to dictate music to him from “That Boy’s No Good!”, 1984, courtesy of The Delius Society]

Well, with Jelka’s firm backing, things did improve.  And over the next 6 years until Delius’ death he and Fenby collaborated, devised, evolved a way to work which is really miraculous, and which brought forth to the world, to us as beneficiaries, a series of works – Cynara, Song of  Summer, Songs of Farewell, Caprice and Elegy, Irmelin Prelude, Fantastic Dance and – to my mind most profoundly, the composition we are now about to hear in live performance: the Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 3.

Let me introduce Elena Jivaeva and Daniel Khalikov to perform this piece, after which I will continue with remarks about the nature of Delius’ condition, the nature of collaboration, and the nature of his music, at which point I will then invite questions and comments from the audience.

[performance of Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 3 by Elena Jivaeva (piano) and Daniel Khalikov (violin)]

I hope that you are as inspired as I am by that wonderful performance and that you’ve been given a glimpse into the mysteries of Delius’ unique vision.

Delius, as it turns out, was never particularly at ease in the established classical forms; in fact, given all that he wrote, it is noteworthy that not one symphony was ever penned!  When he wrote for orchestra he could not be confined and what emerged were structures that evolved organically, poetically – even his operas, which flew in the face of prevailing trends – were like extended mind-poems, rich, condensed and magically beautiful.  Nearly every composition of Delius’ ends softly.

Barnett Newman, the modernist painter of zip paintings, said that writing about art was one of the most ridiculous things in the world; yet he himself wrote quite a lot about it, especially his own!

 In this spirit let me opine a bit about Delius’ music.  The foremost and most profoundly significant quality is that – for want of a better word, and at the risk of nebulousness – it is ‘genuine’.  By this I mean that it is utterly devoid of pretence or sham, that it somehow gets to the heart of the great truths of the human condition; it is not music for meaningless virtuosic display (which is why his concertos and sonatas are so seldom performed); it is never bombastic or selfish.  Gustav Mahler, about whose music I have changed my own opinion, thanks to the exposure to Scriabin and Delius, is reputed to have told Bruno Walter at his composing hut, when Walter was admiring the magnificent scenery of the Alps: “Don’t bother looking at that, I’ve created it all here!”  He was ostensibly referring to his pompous Third Symphony.  This is an example of the antithesis of Delius who quite rightly described Mahler’s music as “dull, pretentious and unoriginal”; and he quite correctly referred to Stravinsky as “an acrobat”.  No, the music of Delius is genuine – which also means that it is never sentimental, never cheap, even when unsuccessful.

G. B. Shaw wrote that “The great artist … by supplying works of a higher beauty and a higher interest than have yet been perceived, succeeds, after a brief struggle with its strangeness, in adding this fresh extension of sense to the heritage of the race” (p. 69).  And certainly Delius achieved this for us.  Can we articulate what his music was “about?”  Of course not … but we can call attention to certain qualities.

There is a sensuousness that is inescapable – in fact the Griegs were somewhat alarmed by the erotic element in Delius’ early songs.  It was as if Delius were not afraid to show Nature in its beauteous nakedness.  And yes, there is Nature everywhere – not a two-dimensional mimicry of the grandeur of the earth, but the personal expression of its essence in a unique and rapturous musical language.  Delius may have been an atheist, but this is not to say that he didn’t perceive a force greater than his species.

I am reminded of a very brief paper by Freud, entitled “On Transience.”  In this paper, which is really itself a prose poem, Freud describes a summer walk through a smiling countryside with a taciturn friend and a famous poet.  The poet was despondent over the fact that all the beauty within his ken would be fated to vanish when winter came… and Freud rejoined that the transience of beauty is what made it all the more valuable.  Delius’ music never becomes despondent: it celebrates both the ineffable beauty, transcendence and magnificence of life and love, and simultaneously their decay and disappearance.

Look at the words or stories to which he set his tones: the ‘mass’ of life, based on Nietzsche’s paean to the power of creativity; Sea Drift, based on a poem of Walt Whitman’s about two birds who love until one disappears and is sought for in vain by its mate; the Songs of Sunset based on the poems of the so-called ‘decadent’ poet Ernest Dowson: “they are not long, the weeping and the laughter, love and desire and hate, I think they have no portion in us after we pass the gate; they are not long, the days of wine and roses; out of a misty dream our path emerges for a while, then closes, within a dream.”; and of course A Village Romeo and Juliet, his operatic masterpiece about two young lovers who consummate their forbidden love and then die together in the midst of the vastness of nature. Let us hear Delius’ own words about his anomalous Requiem:

“Often a man is judged worthless to the world and its laws, who should be exalted by praise for his human grandness, and the love of which he gives freely.  Thus independence and self-reliance are the marks of a man who is great and free.  He will look forward to his death with high courage in his soul, in profound solitude, in harmony with nature and the ever-recurrent, sonorous rhythm of birth and death” (Jefferson, p. 75).

The young British violin virtuoso and Delian Tasmin Little (Little, 1986) did some exceptional work.  Without knowing it she behaved exactly like a psychoanalyst. Being intimately acquainted with Delius’ music she sensed a shift in the internal feeling of Delius’ music, the inclusion of a certain profound sense of loss and longing, and she hypothesized that this was connected with Delius’ Florida love affair with Chloe, by whom he might very well have fathered a child. The love of Delius’ life.  I think that Tasmin has hit if not on literal truth then on a profound psychological truth about Delius.  Like all first great loves, this would prove to be impossible and would leave an indelible mark.  It makes great psychological sense to me that Chloe would be the one woman for Delius in whom erotic sensuality and affection could be united; evidence of his behavior afterwards suggests a clear division between his lustful and affectionate cravings.  I believe Tasmin is right in her suggestion of the power and influence of this great love affair and I believe that the first creative response and the psychological key to its effect was Delius’ opera, never performed in his lifetime, The Magic Fountain.

Completed in 1895 the opera concerns the dreamy leader of Spaniards, Solano (remember Solano Grove?) who leads an expedition to Florida; abandoning the quest for gold he seeks instead the fountain of youth, the font of wisdom and truth, and he falls in love with an Indian guide, Watawa, for whom such interracial and intercultural love is treasonous. Solano is eventually drawn to mysterious waters, which he believes will grant immortality; but these are waters of Death.  Watawa heeds his entreaty and gives herself to her love knowing that it will mean death, for her lover’s sake, and Solano drinks of the fountain and falls dead upon her breast.

Thus the artistic reworking of the affair with Chloe which represents the impossibility of immortal love.  The figure which graces our program’s flyer is Gauguin’s painting “Nevermore” – representing Chloe, Watawa, the love and lover that can never be attained…..  No doubt, behind the first failed love-affair for Delius and for all of us, lurks the Oedipal shadow of the parent -- in Delius’ case the inevitable and irrevocable childhood loss of the mother, to which we may link his ceaseless musical adoration of and reverence for Mother Nature, as it were.

Perhaps we can hear such strains in the second movement of the sonata, which I will ask Elena and Daniel to repeat.

[encore of second movement of Delius’ Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 3, performed by Elena Jivaeva and Daniel Khalikov]

Tasmin’s work is also important for its description of a psychoanalytic contribution to the interpreter’s art.  In fact, I have performed an experiment with Elena Jivaeva, using a formal psychoanalytic approach to the interpretation of Scriabin’s Fragilite’.  What Tasmin describes, and what Elena and I achieved (in an as yet unpublished but presented piece of work), is a process wherein an interpreter opens himself/herself to emotional imagery stimulated by a composition, and incorporates the resulting new emotional resonance into the playing and interpretation of the piece.  Which all goes to demonstrate that the fundamental tools of psychoanalysis are available to all.

One more comment about the nature of Delius’ music: it is profoundly contemplative.  How often do we truly still ourselves to listen, to hear, to see?  Listening to a piece of Delius is like using a microscope – we start first at low power and then focus stepwise at higher powers to see with ever greater clarity and precision and detail.  The music doesn’t repeat --  it deepens.  Would it surprise you to learn that Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Gene Krupa, Mel Torme’ and Bernard Herrmann (perhaps the greatest composer of film music, with Citizen Kane, North by Northwest, Psycho and many others to his credit) were all passionate Delians?

Let me now address the state of Delius’s mental faculties during his last years, and the particular nature of the collaboration with Fenby.  In every account of Delius’s illness, almost like a tic, one reads that the composer’s mental powers were undiminished.  As a physician I beg to differ.

Tertiary neurosyphilis is a generalized systemic disease involving to varying degrees a breakdown of the immune system, active infection of the cerebral cortex, vasculitis, palsies, vascular occlusion and infarction.  It may occur in as many as 25 to 40 percent of all infected patients.  There is no doubt about the CNS involvement of Delius’ disease. Vascular changes accounted for his blindness, and we know that Delius suffered sensory disturbances, hypotonia, and ataxia.  It is inconceivable that Delius’ intellectual and cognitive functions would have been wholly spared.  Reading Fenby’s book from a clinician’s perspective gives me no pause to diagnose some form of dementia, much as I dislike the term.  To put it differently, if I were treating a patient in Delius’ condition, I would expect some type of dementing process inevitably to be occurring – it may not be obvious, especially given the already high intellectual capacity of our subject and the cultivation of his existing faculties as arranged by his wife – the readings, the listening to the radio and gramophone – but cognitive decline, accompanied by a worsening of the difficult aspects of his personality, e.g., elements of paranoia, extreme fluctuations in mood, tremendous irritability and I suspect the occasional presence of perceptual disturbances which were well-concealed (Delius would often abruptly ask to be taken away from a situation or person) had no doubt occurred.  I realize that to certain Delians this might appear controversial – but recognizing medical reality doesn’t in any way diminish the man or the greatness of his accomplishments.  From a psychiatric standpoint, one may very easily diagnose a mood disorder – but is it a consequence of the organic illness, or simply attendant?  I do not find it fruitful to ‘pathologize’ in this manner.  Delius was nothing less than heroic in his own personal attempts to live as fully as possible with such an agonizing disease: he never recanted his fierce independence of dogma and when  the opportunity to finish his life’s creative work presented itself, he rose magnificently to the occasion.  Imagine the mental strain associated with composing orchestral works while blind, no matter how astute an amanuensis!  In any case, the best medical studies, brief as they are, of Delius’ condition – by Wainapel, and Jones and Heron, coupled with a diagnostic perspective of Fenby’s account – support the existence of tabes dorsalis and meningovascular syphilis.

This now leads us to a reassessment of the exact nature of the laborious dictation and composition of music with Fenby. Several have suggested that Fenby contributed more than his share of the dictated works, that the works were in fact more Fenby than Delius.

Well, my own position is slightly different.  I believe that Fenby and Delius entered into what I will call a rhapsodie a deux.  So thoroughly absorbed by the spirit of Delius’ music, so completely attuned to its sensibility, Fenby could in fact anticipate what Delius wished.  First, we know that Percy Grainger fully composed a general dance in 1923 to be incorporated anonymously into Hassan – so there is a precedent.  Second, one of the first tasks Delius set Fenby to was to select the good material from A Poem of Life and Love and ‘make a piece out of it yourself.’  The two examples of dictation which Fenby provides in his memoir are actually anomalous: as Fenby says, these were two of the few instances in which Delius knew fairly accurately the notation of the music….”an account of what happened when he felt moved to compose without premeditation, as it were, would be unreadable” (Fenby, p. 155).  And Fenby reported: “It is true that during the course of work on a new composition I thought myself into it about as much as did Delius himself. ‘My dear boy, you finish my sentences for me,’ he used to say.  It was no use remaining passive and merely taking down the notes” (Fenby, p. 99, italics added).  And furthermore: “I… had often noticed during working hours that a phrase that Delius was about to dictate had already occurred to me before he could name it…. I was often writing out some passage as fast as I could, when like a flash some phrase would come to mind and I would be amazed to hear Delius begin to dictate it…” (Fenby, p. 99).

Let me try a summary description. Here was Delius, blind, crippled, hardly able to concentrate for minutes at a time without strenuous effort, suggesting a note or phrase that was taken up by Fenby, who had by now lived in the Delian musical world, and would play extensions of the notes or phrases or chords -- lead Delius as it were, obtaining his assent.  So attuned were they both to the same musical vision that it is useless to debate about authorial priorities especially given the inherent complexity of even the simplest of musical scores.  How much Fenby is in these last works of Delius is moot – for the Fenby that is there is Delius himself, the Delius that resided in the compositions created hitherto.

Which brings me at last to the matter of devotion and collaboration.  A true devotee is one who is devoted not to a person but to a person’s vision, to the task or mission or ideal which that person serves.  It was Delius’ inimitable artistic vision that attracted devotees – Thomas Ward, the German conductor Hans Haym, his uncle Theodore who supported him for a while, Thomas Beecham, Eric Fenby and greatest of all, his wife Jelka.

There is something about the human mind that seeks to create imposing godlike figures … hence we revere certain artists and composers who ‘create out of nothing’   -- so we like to think.  And while it is true that the particular beauties and brilliances that occur in a magnificent work of art are the result – and can only be the result -- of some spontaneous creative individual achievement, it is also true that a creator does not work without support, does not work in a vacuum.  Without Jelka there would be no Delius as we know him; without the collaborative web of practical aid, inspiration, help and encouragement and love, no one would be capable of much, least of all the artist.  Great art somehow simultaneously reminds us of the fragility and preciousness of our human existence amid the grandeur and mystery of the transcendent world.  To be most fully human one must create, and to create one must collaborate.

Popular culture – this never-ending tidal wave in which we all of us find ourselves ubiquitously immersed – and government generally seek to inhibit creativity, which is, after all, a subversive act.  The former promulgates passivity and homogeneity, the latter discipline.  The media of television and film pander to the cheapest sentiments, and governments deal in propagandistic persuasion.

Delius, said Beecham once, was a ‘rock’ – an example of humankind, troubled and complex and ornery and deficient as it is – who nevertheless in his steadfast fidelity to his cause – and ours – of beauty and creativity deserves more than our admiration: he deserves a true and deep and committed hearing.

© 2005 Emanuel E. Garcia, MD
23 October 2005

Selected Bibliography

Beecham, T. (1959).  Frederick Delius. Hutchinson & Co.: London.
Carley, L. (1983).  Delius: A Life in Letters, I, 1862-1908.  Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass.
Fenby, E.  (1994).  Delius as I knew him.  Dover Publications, Inc: New York (republication of revised 1981 edition by Faber and Faber:London).
Ibsen, H. (1881).  Ghosts. In Eleven Plays of Henrik Ibsen. The Modern Library: New York.
Jefferson, A. (1972).  Delius. (The Master Musicians Series, ed. J. Westrup). Octagon Books: New York.
James, P. and Heron, J.R. (1988).  A fever diluted by time: notes on Frederick Delius.  The Delius Society Journal, 98(Autumn):3-8.
Little, T. (1986). Delius and his violin concerto: a performer’s viewpoint. The Delius Society Journal, 91(Autumn):3-19.
Lloyd, S. ed. (1996).  Fenby on Delius. Thames Publishing: London.
Shaw, G.B. (1908).  The Sanity of Art: An Exposure of the Current Nonsense about Artists being Degenerate.  London: New Age Press
Tall, D. (1978). The Fenby legacy.  The Delius Society Journal, 61(October):5-20.
Threlfall, R. (1998).  ‘The Fenby Legacy’ – a postscript.  The Delius Society Journal, 124(Winter):7-10.
Wainapel, S.F. (1993).  Frederick Delius: the man, the composer, the patient. Journal of Medical Biography, 1:160-164.

N.B.: A complete list of all of the works I consulted in preparation for this talk would be as long as the talk itself, which is by necessity a distillation and summary, hence I have included only those references from which I have actually quoted.  Nearly every aspect of Delius’ life raises mysteries for the scholar – happily so, I may add, reminding us of the impossibility of reductionism.  I wish also to refer the reader to to the meticulously researched articles by Tall (1978) and Threlfall (1998) for the musical specificities of the Fenby-Delius collaboration.

Acknowledgments and special thanks to Jilly Little, Bill Marsh, Bill Thompson, Charles Powell and The Delius Society (London and Philadelphia branches).

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