ERIC FENBY - The Local Connection
A Talk by Jayne Strutt
October 15, 2010
I’m sure that most of you are
familiar with at least some of the music of the composer Frederick
Delius - like the miniature for small orchestra called – ‘On hearing
the first cuckoo in spring’ - according to the Ken Russell film,
it inspired our modest local maestro to act on that incredible
inspirational impulse! It was also my first taste of Delius
when I was in my teens way
back!!!!! Then I was smitten
The music seems completely imbued
with the spirit of an english springtime – mists, buds, streams, grass
– all conjured up musically along with the sweet melancholy song of the
cuckoo - all very English!
Yet the original tune was
based on a Norwegian folk song -
This lovely orchestral work
is however just only one aspect of the genius of Delius --- so ----to
be different, here’s a short part-song from an earlier period to
conjure up a magical midsummer atmosphere.
1/ Please allow for the
‘snap crackle and pop’ from my well worn vinyl records some are over 30
‘Midsummer Song’ sung by
‘The Louis Halsey Singers’ from my treasured vinyl collection.
2/ Midsummer Song was one of the
Delius’ part songs from his early career - it was composed well before
the dreadful affliction took hold and cruelly rendered him
virtually paralysed and eventually blind - you probably recall
images from ‘A Song of Summer’ the Ken Russell film, depicting him as
such, - the helpless invalid!
3/ Frederick Delius was born in
Bradford in 1862.
During later life he was to
owe so much to another Yorkshireman - a modest music teacher from
Scarborough - Eric Fenby…..
4/ Now, I do feel quite
humble about doing this - when his memory is so cherished by those who
knew him personally - it’s also privilege to talk to you about this
selfless and talented local maestro who I admire so much for the
musical gift he passed on. In fact it was music and in particular the
music of Delius that drew me here to Scarborough and the north
Yorkshire coast in the first place.
5/ It is also a great indulgence
to be able to share my own choice of music with you, it’s a bit like
taking you into my own ‘Aladdin’s Cave of music’ –
6/ Firmly in the Aladdin’s Cave is
this lovely arrangement of another earlier work much neglected yet
resurrected in the 1960s and beautifully transformed for flute and
strings by Eric Fenby.
It is entitled simply ‘Air
The Air and Dance from two pieces
for flute and strings arranged by Eric Fenby - Elena Duran on
flute with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta under Eric Fenby
1/ Without the intervention of our
local musician, that ‘Aladdin’s Cave of music’ I mentioned would be so
much the poorer.
2/ For me Delius’ music is so
imbued with a yearning for the past - lamenting the transience of
things in life and rejoicing in the loveliness of Mother Nature.
3/ Delius himself was once a great
lover of the joys of the world and a liver of life to the full. Over
those active early years he had shaped a unique musical style full of
all those joys and sorrows of life and of love -
4/ Yet all those musical
impressions were still trapped inside his head when his body was
emaciated and physically crumbling away - yet mentally he was just as
much the unique composer as ever, with so much perhaps, even more yet
to say musically – though this incredible musical genius was unable to
give back to the world the musical essence of its own beauty.
5/ The arrival of Eric Fenby as
Delius’ amanuensis in 1928 ‘made possible an indian summer after the
main musical harvest’ – That is a fair way of putting it.
But the Eric Fenby
contribution is easily underestimated. So much was rescued from
that musical harvest that would otherwise be lost for good!
6/ Virtually up to his death in
1997 Fenby was still working hard arranging orchestral & piano
works conducting and generally propagating the beautiful and delicate
music of this amazing composer –
So much so that Fenby’s
involvement must have imbued the music with something of himself
(although he would have no doubt denied it!)
7/ The next musical offering is
one of two short pieces for string orchestra. That seem to symbolize
the amazing work of ‘Eric Fenby’, originally they were supposed to be
unaccompanied part songs that were -
‘To be sung upon a summer
night on the water’
8/ The two lovely companion pieces
were beautifully and sympathetically transformed by Eric Fenby - ‘to be
played by a string orchestra’.
9/ This music I particularly
associate with our own unsung hero and modest master of music –
unfortunately there is time for only the one of these, so here is the
first of the ‘Aquarellies’ -lento ma non troppo - not too slow –
As we dip the paddles and
drift amid the water lilies…..
The first of the Aquarelles - the
Bournemouth Sinfonietta under Norman del Mar
1/ Delius and Fenby were both
northerners - Yorkshire men - and they knew the beautiful moorland
coastal areas. They both loved the wild, lonely, heather clad
places with distant vistas out to the sea. Delius in
particular always loved the northern scene and when paralysed and blind
still yearned for the heather clad moorland and the vast north sea –
like looking eastward from the cliffs at Cloughton.
2/ The ‘Songs of Farewell’
recovered from previous work - must have become so much a part of
eric Fenby as he rescued each piece and breathed new life into
something long abandoned by Delius.
3/ The next piece of music is
entitled - ‘I stand as on some mighty eagle’s beak’ - from the ‘Songs
of Farewell’ its scored for double chorus and orchestra -
4/ The words were selected by Mrs
Delius well before things got really bad and the work was then put
aside due to the onset of Delius’ illness - that was until the arrival
of our man from Scarborough - without whom of course it
would have probably vanished into oblivion!
This work ranks as one of
Fenby’s greatest achievements while he was in France along with ‘Song
of Summer’ and ‘Violin Sonata no 3’ –
5/ The settings of these songs are
beautiful and poignant - the words taken from Walt Whitman’s collection
of poems ‘Leaves of Grass’
Now just imagine –
We’re on Cloughton cliffs -
‘looking out to sea –
Standing on some mighty
‘eastward the sea absorbing
Nothing but sea and sky –
The tossing waves the foam-
The ships in the distance –
The wild unrest –
The snowy, curling caps-
That inbound urge and urge
Seeking the shores forever.’
‘I stand as on some mighty eagle’s
beak’ from the 'Songs of Farewell’
The Royal Choral Society and
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent.
1/ As a young man of 22 years in
1928 - Eric Fenby took a gamble…. He offered his services as a musical
assistant or amanuensis to the blind and paralysed composer.
He had heard of Delius’
plight - all that pent up genius urging itself to fruition and Delius
so frustrated at not being able to complete his life’s work.
2/ Just imagine what was in his
thoughts walking upon Cloughton cliffs?
‘What can I realistically
‘Will I be taken seriously?’
‘What are the chances he
Well, accept he did - Jelka
Delius wrote back accepting the offer and Scarborough musician Eric
Fenby was to set off for a tiny village about 40km south of Paris
called ‘Grez sur Loing’…
3/ Despite Eric’s first
impressions, it is in a beautiful rural setting beside the river and
seems so redolent of Delius’ music - I’ve been there and believe me,
his spirit seems to be there still.
4/ One of the greatest
achievements of the collaboration is the ‘Song of Summer’ taken from an
unfinished earlier work ‘A poem of life and love’ - Song of Summer was
heard for the first time at a 1931 Proms concert conducted by Sir Henry
5/ It was in wooded area of
the garden at Grez beside the river that they were both taken right
back to here! ‘The beautiful north sea coast’ – this being evoked
by the composer …. As he says to Fenby …..
‘I want you to write down
this new opening for the new work. Bring your score paper and sit
‘I want you to imagine
that we are sitting on the cliffs looking out over the sea….
The sustained chords in the
high strings suggest the clear sky and the calmness of the scene -
Then the lower strings in a
rocking rhythm suggest the gentle rise and fall of the waves lapping
upon the shore.
The oboes and the flute
figure evoke a sense of distance as a seagull soars into view’’……..
Picture that sea-scape scene
now as we listen to the lovely opening to
‘A Song of Summer’….
A Song of Summer - The London
Symphony Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli
1/ What is not often realised is
that Eric Fenby was a composer in his own right although much of his
work he himself sadly discarded being I’ve no doubt too self critical……
2/ The famous Scarborough hotelier
Tom Laughton knew this well - he was also a close friend and
Fenby often stayed at Tom’s farm ‘Cherry Tree Farm’ at Lockton.
Whilst walking upon the
moors one day whistling the tune to ‘On Ilkla moor baht 'at’, Tom
challenged Fenby to write a version of the well known tune.
Little did Eric know at the
time - that Tom had already asked Kneale Kelly (then conductor of the
Spa Orchestra) to feature the work during a gala concert to coincide
with the cricket festival.
The first Eric Fenby knew
about it was when he happened to see a poster advertising the event
3/ Despite the shock it proved to
be a sparkling piece. Eric received an ovation and more importantly the
piece was performed over ninety times by various orchestras in the
following year. Here is Eric Fenby’s take on On Ilkla moor baht 'at -
‘Rossini on Ilkla
Here played by The Royal
Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland.
‘Rossini on Ilkla Moor’ by Eric
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia
under Gavin Sutherland
1/ I think that is brilliant and
gives a whole new dimension to a well known tune.
Not so well known is that
Eric Fenby also wrote the musical score to Hitchcock’s film ‘Jamaica
Inn’ and composed much religious music, so much of which he himself
rejected; he must have considered it unworthy of being published!
2/ After returning to Scarborough
following Delius’ death in 1934 the hotelier Tom Laughton featured in
much in his life - Tom provided a safe haven for Eric to recover from
the stresses and strains of the previous six years. During this time he
wrote the book ‘Delius as I knew him’ - in my view a story unequalled
in the history of music!
3/ Two years later he was to
become music advisor to Boosey and Hawkes the music publishers and
continued his close relationship with the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham
who was always a great champion of Delius’ music.
4/ The war years took Fenby to
Blanford in Dorset, where unstoppable musically he established a
garrison military band. Perhaps not quite so brilliant as an engineer -
one of his projects the making of a local road for military vehicles
became know affectionately as Fenby’s folly!
5/ He was however quite productive
musically at this time working with the band and then throughout the
war years eventually publishing a songbook of musical arrangements
under the name of ‘Lieutenant E Fenby’. He was eventually posted to the
army education corps ‘Curdon Hall’ Preston, where he was involved in
preparing personnel for civilian life.
6/ But back to ‘Delius’ - some say
that Fenby always lived under the shadow of the that great master but
he was also always his own man. Telling Delius firmly if he had a
different opinion and by so doing putting his own unique stamp on the
Fenby was not only a scribe
he was a great influence and inspiration to Delius. He was later to be
a caregiver and almost like a son to the dying composer! - in fact no
one could have done more….
7/ Now a word from our local lad
himself followed later by the first fine result of the collaboration
which is the second movement of the Violin Sonata no 3 – which we’ll
hear in the second half with Eric Fenby playing Delius’ own Ibach grand
piano and his close friend Yehudi Menuhin is on violin. But first
through a few of scratches - a word from Eric Fenby …. We’ll take a
break after we’ve heard from Eric - take it away….
Band 7 end of
1/ As I mentioned in the first
half, Eric Fenby was still working hard writing &
broadcasting, re-arranging, conducting and presenting Delius’
music well beyond the 6 years on and off he spent at the composer’s
side. Another result of this wonderful creative work that
extends up until more recent times, were the lovely arrangements made
by Fenby for the flute of James Galway.
2/ Now just digressing slightly –
Delius had spent much of his
youth on an orange plantation in Florida.
From this period came the
inspiration for much of his later work including the opera
‘Koanga’. We’re going to hear a lovely Fenby arrangement of ‘the
dance’ from Koanga called ‘La Calinda’
3/ Apparently the middle section
of this - hints at an erotic slave dance that was once banned from
4/ Here then is La Calinda dated
originally from 1888 - during Delius’ student days - and
scored for flute and strings by Eric Fenby in the 1960s.
La Calinda – Elena Duran (flute)
and The Bournemouth Sinfonietta under Eric Fenby.
1/ Staying with the theme of works
re-born and given new lustre, this time we go back to 1922.
2/ Delius was becoming
increasingly more disabled but still managed to dictate to his
wonderful wife Jelka five short pieces for piano.
3/ 42 years later those
piano pieces were given new life under Eric Fenby as an orchestral work
entitled 'Five Little Pieces’ -
From those ‘Five Little
Pieces’ - here is number 4.
A lovely slow melancholic
number entitled ‘Lullaby for a modern baby’.
Lullaby for a modern baby -
number 4 of the Five Little Pieces by Eric Fenby - The Bournemouth
Sinfonietta under Eric Fenby
Now a few biographical details
much condensed and reduced due to the limit of time:
1/ a -
Eric Fenby was born 1906 at Candler Street and went to school at
The family later moved to
B - His father Herbert, an
engineer, was chorister at Holy Trinity Church. He also founded a
successful male voice quartet called ‘The Crescent Quartet’.
C - Eric had a keen musical
ear from the start and joined the choir at Holy Trinity where he became
a treble soloist. In 1912 he became organist at Holy Trinity and was
articled (as they say) to Claude Keaton who was like a mentor.
3/ among his accomplishments prior
to the Delius story - eric had :-
Directed several local music
And he’d led the ;
‘wykham village madrigal
To win prizes at york.
At 16 he was in much demand as an
He played the organ at The
Futurist Cinema accompanying the silent films and was hired by manager
a ‘Mr Kitchen’ at the spa. His wages –
‘a spa season ticket’!
It was here at the spa that
he had his first taste of orchestral music and was eventually allowed
to conduct the Spa Orchestra then under Alick Maclean playing one of
his own compositions!
4/ At 19 he had written an organ
sonata and several pieces for string orchestra - all of this prior to
going to France on that very special mission.
5/ Projecting forward beyond 1934 –
Tom Laughton had taken over
the ‘Royal Hotel’ and had refurbished it through out – ‘the Neptune
Ballroom’ being a special feature.
6/ Eric Fenby was there at the
opening and played a piano arrangement of the Delius’ Serenade from
Hassan. This was taken from the incidental music for the stage
production of James Elroy Flecker’s play ‘Hassan’.
Charles Laughton (the famous
actor and Tom’s brother) was there and recited lines from the libretto.
7/ Tom switched on the lights –
The beams of which seemed to
play with the music.
I wish I could have been a
fly on the wall to have witnessed that moment!
Here is the Serenade from
Hassan with Robert Tear taking on the melody.
The Serenade from Hassan -
arranged by Sir Thomas Beecham the tenor Robert Tear.
1/ Changing the pace a bit and
thinking about how much Delius must have empathised with Eric’s love of
the moorland scenery:
2/ They both shared this love of
the northern landscape as I mentioned before - and Delius used to go
out upon the moors as a youngster and rode his pony and walked in this
lovely scenery as later he was to walk in the Norwegian landscape with
3/ Here is a piece called ‘March
Caprice’ - it seems to be the ideal walking accompaniment,
striding out over the hills and far away.
March Caprice by Delius - The
Royal Scottish National Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones
1/ Now an extra couple of Eric
The first an evocative piece
that takes you into a moonlit watery scene
2/ Eric used to take Delius out
onto the river that ran to the rear of Delius’ garden.
He tells us that:-
‘Many a night at Grez - have
I lolled over the oars - silent with Delius - lost in music.
‘The gnats, water lilies and the
faint white mist hovering over willowed banks and overhanging trees’.
‘Summer night on the river’
Summer night on the river - The
Royal Scottish Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones
1/ Scarborough was always in Eric
Fenby’s heart where ever his work took him.
It was here after the war he
met and married Rowena, who was serving as a nurse at Scarborough
2/ They had several homes around
here. First at ‘Stainton Dale’, overlooking the sea, where
he is still fondly remembered wearing bowler hat and a large black
trench coat, affably waving his stick to the local farmers.
They then moved to ‘The
Crescent’ in Scarborough. This was at the time he founded the
‘Music Department’ at ‘North Riding College of Education’ now known as
‘The Westwood Campus’; he became its musical director. While
living at The Crescent their two children were born and raised within
the sound of ‘the husky voiced sea’.
3/ In 1950 he wrote a symphony
conducted by Maurice Miles for the ‘Festival of Britain Concert’ in
Leeds - I just wish we had the music!
4/ In 1962 he was artistic
director of the ‘Delius Centenary Festival’ for which he received an
5/ In 1964 he joined the staff at
the ‘Royal Academy of Music’.
6/ in 1977 he became professor of
7/ in 1978 he became honorary
professor of Jacksonville University and was awarded a doctorate from
8/ Also in 1978 he became a doctor
of letters at Warwick University.
9/ In 1984 he attended
Jacksonville’s Delius festival and conducted A Song of Summer.
10/ In 1986 he celebrated his 80th
birthday at that time still visiting various Delius Society gatherings
as President of the Delius Society
11/ In 1990 he eventually returned
to his native Scarborough. Seven years later in 1997 he was laid to
12/ What achievements!
But despite all this, he remained
the self effacing, modest gentleman and musician, he showed love and
respect for all those with whom he had contact and he never failed to
respond to letters! A true gentleman!
13/ What better way to follow
that, than something else by Scarborough’s modest maestro.
14/ A piece he rescued in
1932. The music from one of Delius’ first operas Irmelin, dated
1890! Now we have the lovely ‘Irmelin Prelude’
On this recording the
‘London Symphony Orchestra’ under ‘Sir John Barbirolli’
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