by Paul Hume, Music Editor
Washington Post – November (?) 1970
Between Frederick Delius and his father there existed a real generation
gap. To Frederick, nothing was less
appetizing than the wool business his father had built up in the Yorkshire town of Bradford, England, while the trips
with his father to France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, intended to lure the young man into the world of business, only heightened his love of travel, not to mention the exciting music he heard on these excursions.
Eventually the father and the son reached a compromise that, for
the time being, suited both: Frederick was staked
to a voyage to America to go into the orange-growing business on a plantation called Solano Grove in northern
Florida. Thanks to this compromise, there later came the tone poem Appalachia and the opera, "Koanga," which
will he performed, here Dec. 18, 20 and 21.
Young Delius - he was then 22 - lived and, if the word is not too
strong, worked on the orange plantation for about a year before his brother,
with a harder head for business, took it over from him. But the year's
true fruits came from long communing with nature, a deepening acquaintance
with the Negroes of the area, and some brief study of
counterpoint with Thomas Ward, an organist formerly of New York City. This study, on top of early work at the violin and long rhapsodic improvising at the piano, convinced Delius that he would be a composer and nothing else.
Unsuccessful in trying to support himself as a music teacher in Jacksonville,
Delius moved to Danville, Virginia,
which can claim the distinction of being the only city in the world ever to have heard Delius perform publicly: he
played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and promptly moved on to New York City for a few months before his father finally capitulating, allowed him, grudgingly, to go to Leipzig for extensive music study.
For all that Delius was probably the most withdrawn composer in history,
his feeling for taste and style and genius
in the arts was unerring. Moving to Paris after two years of study in Leipzig, his friends included Gauguin, Sisley,
Strindberg, Ravel and many more of the leading young talents of that time. Around the turn of the century, Delius
moved to the tiny hamlet of Grez-sur-Loing, bordering on Fontainebleau where lived the remainder of his life,
concerned only with the singular music that poured out of his mind.
Something very close to a paradox surrounds this man wham Sir Thomas
Beecham described as "a supreme and
complete egoist," yet one who, Beecham adds, “never once in our long association asked me to play anything of
his, although he knew well enough that I was ready to do so at any moment."
Without the slightest reservation Beecham acknowledged his own debt
to Delius, saying, "I was still reluctant to
devote the whole to a single occupation (orchestral conducting) until I brought myself to believe that I could achieve
a success in it that would compensate for my failures elsewhere. That I did take the final plunge was due mainly to
the convincing counsel and constant conviction of Frederick Delius."
It was, of course, Sir Thomas who singlehandedly made the name and
fame of Delius not only in England but
wherever he conducted, and on phonograph recordings. It was also Sir Thomas who was responsible for Covent
Garden productions of two of Delius’ operas, "A Village Romeo and Juliet," and "Koanga," which Washington is
soon to see and hear in the Opera Society's production on Dec. 18, 20, and 21.
To one critic's charge that the "Romeo and Juliet" was undramatic,
Beecham said that he had never been able to
discover that deficiency in it, but he concedes that Delius "has certainly a method of writing opera shared by no one else."
Today, the music of Delius is easily enough available on new and
excellent recordings for us to investigate all of
those aspects of his technique that are involved in opera: orchestral, choral, and writing for solo voices. The choral
pieces he left are as unique as they are gorgeous in timbre and sonority. His handling of the orchestra has always
been characterized by a delicacy of the rarest texture, exquisite, filled with poetic nuances of ravishing effect. No
conductor can ever produce superlative Delius by any process related to browbeating. But by subtle persuasion and
constant attention to what Sir Thomas once told me was the sole secret of all Delius, the. ever-present melody, his
richest treasures can be unfolded.
The Opera Society's "Koanga" will be the opera's first staged performances
in this country. Beecham gave it at
Covent Garden in 1935. Considering the American origins of the work, which could never have come into existence
in either its drama or its music had not Delius come to live here, its arrival on our stages is strangely late.
During the 1963 Delius Festival, an event held annually on the campus
of Jacksonville University, where the house
in which Delius lived at Solano Grove has been restored, an abridged version of the opera, consisting of selected
scenes was given in concert form. But for the full effect of all that Delius was trying to say in his music drama about
slave life on a Southern plantation, the fullest possible combination of chorus, solo voices, orchestra, and staging
One moment in the score may sound familiar to "Koanga" audiences.
It is the dance scene, called "La Calinda,"
which has been recorded a number of times. Other than that, Washington is soon to hear a virtually unknown
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