His first Danish "collaborator", as early as 1885, was naturally H. C. Andersen ("To brune øjne"), followed, almost equally naturally, by Holger Drachmann (Sakuntala, for tenor and orchestra) in 1889. Drachmann provided further texts on other occasions and Ludvig Holstein was drawn in as well. Helge Rode (1870-1937) was perhaps Deliusí oldest and most constant Danish friend. In 1898 Delius wrote to Rode with a suggestion that they collaborate on a work for the theatre. Whether these plans were ever realized is not known, but Rodeís play, Dansen gaar (1898), became the inspiration for a "symphonic poem", La Ronde se déroule (later revised and published as Lebenstanz / Lifeís Dance). Deliusí dream of a theatrical collaboration may have included the visual arts as well; in any case, his and Rodesí common friend, the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, painted his magnificent Lifeís Dance, at about this time.
Delius was thus in close contact with and an active participant in the progressive movements, the intellectual and artistic currents in Scandinavian culture in the years around the turn of the century. The artist who exerted the strongest influence on him, however, was one whom he never had the opportunity of meeting, the poet and novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen, who died in 1885. When and how Delius discovered J.P. Jacobsen is uncertain, but he recognized Jacobsenís genius at once and in the Seven Danish Songs he set music to six of Jacobsenís finest poems. The seventh song has a text by Drachmann and four of Deliusí other songs, also with texts by Jacobsen, Drachmann and H.C. Andersen, have recently been orchestrated by Bo Holten. In 1901 he referred to Jacobsenís novel Fru Maria Grubbe (1876) as "one of the best books I have ever read", but he chose Niels Lyhne (1880) to provide the subject of an opera, Fennimore and Gerda (1908-1911). It was to be Deliusí last opera and his most original attempt to realize his idea of the genre. The story unfolds in 11 "pictures", 9 devoted to Fennimore and only 2 to Gerda, as Delius wanted to assure the opera a happy ending by omitting Niels Lyhneís deeply depressing "difficult death". The result was a relatively short opera with many changes of scene, a combination that has made its production difficult, but it contains much fine music, some of which has been collected in the lovely Inermezzo. Still under Jacobsenís spell, Delius composed in 1911 yet another work, An Arabesk for baritone, chorus and orchestra, in the opinion of some the most perfect musical setting of a Jacobsen poem ever written. It was also the last time Delius wrote music to a Scandinavian text.
- John Bergsagel