If all you knew of Delius was Brigg Fair you would think he was an English composer. If all you knew was Appalachia or the Florida Suite you would think he was an unusually good American one. If it were the Song of the High Hills, then Norwegian.
The point therefore is that Delius was a true cosmopolitan and very difficult to categorise, which is one of the main thrusts of this immensely valuable new book.
Professor Jeremy Dibble is one of our foremost academic supporters of British music. He has written books on Parry, Stanford, Stainer and Hamilton Harty, and, in the course of these efforts, has done some very useful promotion on Stanford’s chamber music on CD.
This book’s subtitle is Style, Form and Ethos, the analysis of which informs the whole text of this huge book, 522 pages long (including 40 pages of bibliography and indices). It is likely to be the last word on the topic for a very long time.
I am not going to pretend I have read much – that is a future pleasure, but what I have – in investigating my favourite works – Appalachia, Songs of Sunset, and the Double Concerto, I found that all receive perceptive comment, discussion, insight and illumination.
Professor Dibble probes the sources and influences on Delius’s imagination and hugely varied stylistic resource, starting with his education at Leipzig Conservatorium, and the influence of the mysteriously shadowy Thomas Ward in Jacksonville, Florida. Delius was to come to acknowledge that he was a ‘stateless individual’ and ‘considered that his music refused to belong to any national school or movement’.
Other matters discussed are Delius’s ‘use of texts, operatic plots, and picturesque impressions, his relationship to Nietzsche’s writings, and the genre of dance’.
It used to be suspected that when Beecham, one of Delius’s foremost and sympathetic exponents died, that interest in the music might wane. I always thought this to be nonsense – the music is too good for that to happen, and, of course, contemporary conductors have taken up the cause.
However, the music is quite tricky to ‘get right’ (own observation!) It needs to move on especially where, tell it not in Gath, the rhythms become wooden, but not to the extent that exquisite momentary frissons are glossed over.
Thus, it is to be fervently hoped that further study expedited by this new book will help to bring new insights into the presentation of the music of this unique composer.
Review by Geoffrey Atkinson
PS Remember BMS members can get 35% discount from the publisher’s website – more details here.