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.

Band 1  
1/ Please allow for the ‘snap crackle and pop’ from my well worn vinyl records some are over 30 years young.
‘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 and Dance’……

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 eagle’s beak’

‘eastward the sea absorbing viewing –
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 of waves-
Seeking the shores forever.’
Band 4

‘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 offer?’
‘Will I be taken seriously?’
‘What are the chances he might accept?’ 
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 Wood.

 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 beside me…..’
 ‘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’….
Band 5

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 featuring himself.

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 Moor’                
Here played by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland.
Band 6 

‘Rossini on Ilkla Moor’ by Eric Fenby-
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 work.
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 part one……
Part two

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 public performance!

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’.
Band 2
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 Gladstone Road.
The family later moved to Trafalgar Square.
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 societies,
And he’d led the ;
‘wykham village madrigal group’
To win prizes at york.

At 16 he was in much demand as an accompanist,
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.
Band 3
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 Grieg.

3/ Here is a piece called ‘March Caprice’  - it seems to be the ideal walking accompaniment, striding out over the hills and far away.
Band 4

March Caprice by Delius - The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones

1/ Now an extra couple of Eric Fenby’s arrangements:-
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’
Band 5

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 Hospital.

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 OBE.

5/ In 1964 he joined the staff at the ‘Royal Academy of Music’.

6/ in 1977 he became professor of composition.

7/ in 1978 he became honorary professor of Jacksonville University and was awarded a doctorate from Bradford University.

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 rest here. 

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’
Band 6……

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