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Frederick Delius’ music brought to San Miguel in the All Europe Festival

By Antonio Cabrero

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is the suggestive title of the wonderful short piece chosen to open up the concert, then as the SMA Symphony usually does, the concert closes with another piece by Delius: Summer Night by the River. Both descriptive titles open us to Nature, where Delius was always most comfortable; of the first of these pieces it has been said that is the perfect movie score, except it was done 35 years before films and scores for films.

All Europe Festival
Thu, Feb 6, 6pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta

Frederick Delius, born in Bradford, England, to a prosperous family with a rigorous German father, leaves home for a job in an orange plantation in Florida, at age 22. Soon afterwards he fathered a child with a black woman, a son he tried to find in vain after 20 years of absence.

By the river and surrounded by trees he soon forgot about the oranges and concentrated on composing, having attended a few lessons by a Mr. Thomas Ward in Jacksonville. He always said that this was the best and only useful training he had applied in his music.

His music continued most of his life to show a strong American flavor. By the river he heard the Blacks singing from their boats and his workers also sang their music while collecting oranges, and the Afro-American natural music that later will develop into jazz and blues was incorporated by Delius in his own idiom permeated with sensuousness, even erotism, harmonies rich in texture that emphasize the “blue” notes between occidental music intervals.

He composed an opera Koanga that narrates the life of an African Prince brought to America in chains, reflecting maybe the opposite to his own chains he dropped when renouncing voluntarily a comfortable life in England.

His opera and his music in general have not yet acquired the popularity they deserve and maybe never will since it is after all very sophisticated music, more for a selected few than for the general public, but a revival is imminent given the trends of our times, with the advent of New Age, film scores and smooth jazz, all of which owe a lot to Delius.

We must consider Delius’ music as art ahead of its time, for instance the opera Koanga about the Afro-Americans, the deep South, the blues and the liberation of the slaves predates Porgy and Bess by Gershwin by 25 years.

Delius spent the best time of his life in the USA, just 20 years after the horrors of its civil war, and we will never know if his native Afro-American one and only son knew who his musical genius father was, or if the kid would have inherited his musical talent. All we know is the search to find him was in vain.

In search for knowledge he moved back to Europe, to Leipzig in particular where at the time Brahms and Tchaikovsky were premiering their symphonies at the Gewandhaus and the heroic fantasies of Wagner were taking shape.

Delius moved to Paris where not surprisingly he was friends with the Impressionist painters, he himself being a musical impressionist painter. Young Maurice Ravel and Florent Schmitt transcribed to piano some of his works,.

It was by influence of the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham that Delius was disinterred from Fontainbleu near Paris and taken to British soil under utmost secrecy and controversy. This delicate international affair got more publicity for Delius than a lifetime of neglect, both in France and England.

In determining if Delius’ music is English, one must admit it sounds English, or is it Norwegian? Or French? And certainly it is very Afro-American, so we can only say it is Delius and fits nowhere and it will always be that way.

One question also will always remain… where would he himself have chosen to be buried? I may venture a very possible answer: Solano Grove orange plantation, next to the river house in Florida, United States of America.


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