Published by Boydell Press
A brand new book about one of the UK’s most brilliant musical composers? Delius, born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, spent most of his live outside the UK, and developed his own, totally distinct, musical language, and brought millions of his fans onboard for the ride of their auditory lives!
Well, yes, this an informative and uplifting book throughout, and a fantastic addition to the bookshelf – a delight to read! Excellently written and researched – both an enlightening and enthralling read, in equal measure!!
So, now then, I think, well hope, I’ve caught your attention, somewhat, so excuse me for that intro, but now I’ll start at the beginning with some insight about the life of the genius that is Frederick Delius!
The prospect of reading and reviewing this book, when it dropped through the letterbox, or, actually, a postie knocked on the door, as our letterbox is too small. Anyway, this reviewing idea lead me to open the package quite enthusiastically, to say the least. ‘Delius and Norway’, well, intrigue hit me between the eyes, so to speak – and what a great title too, me thinks. Another new book on Delius, I hear you say, eh, yeah, okay? Well, as I’ve always found his music both aurally delightful in tone and cerebally inspiring in equal measure, no problem! Although a long time fan of Delius and his music, one of the great, and very inspiring of British composers, with this new volume by Andrew J. Boyle I entered a new world, as he took me on a, well, it seemed it to me, an almost private journey into unexplored territory, almost like the northern lands, their culture and people, for which Delius was such an advocate. From the dust cover alone, with it’s stunning images, it enticed me to open the pages and let the syllables, words, sentences and chapters, wash over me, like a light windfall of snow, in the Norwegian Fjords. I opened the book each day with wonderment, of what will await me in these pages, and with a new minds eye, so to speak, with images and such vivid descriptions of the Nordic lands and its music, culture and most importantly, it seems here, its people.
We read much of his friendships included Sinding and Munch, as well as other Norwegian artists, and musicians, who influenced his approach to composition and in developing his own musical voice. Using access to many letters from his friends, and colleagues, which are quoted frequently, and of course, many other papers recording this world, as his work and personal life entwining throughout, we see Delius as a complex human being with both strengths and weaknesses, as is generally with the work of a true creative. Also included in the these pages are many musical examples, which are used as reference points, to show his developing musical and creative mind. Nordic influences are seen and heard in many of his major compositions, and some minor ones, as well as his lovely settings of Norwegian poets, so reading how this occurred is enlightening. In fact, his use of Norwegian folk tunes created much influence on his musical development and compositional style as a whole.
He led a pretty bohemian, exciting, and artistic life in Europe, especially Paris, we learn from much about his many visits there, with many visiting artists and musicians from Nordic lands, who joined him and the other creative minds at work in the artistic capital of 19th/20th century. We see how a major friendship with the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and his wife Nina, developed into a longstanding, deep, and emotional friendship. Indeed, even after Edvard’s death, Nina and Delius would keep in touch with one another, until death.
Over the years, on his numerous trips abroad, where he sought an almost musical, inspirational enlightenment from as many influences as he could absorb, this, remember, without wikipedia, or the internet, freely available recordings, etc. Doing this, although extremely hard and focussed work, teaching himself to write the way he wanted, and indeed had to, to express his musical visions. Approaching his work this way, he developed many friends amongst artistic communities, including close friendships, such as conductors and performers, who helped take his music to a wider world and the listening public in general. As is well known, Thomas Beecham was a really big promoter of his work, and there a couple of nice anecdotes about their relationship contained within these pages. Also the developing relationship with the Harrison sisters, two well known british performers for whom he wrote his Cello concerto (Beatrice) and a double concerto for Violin+Cello (May and Beatrice). Of course, these two performers were also friends and colleagues of Elgar too – Beatrice performed/recorded his Cello Concerto.
There is much sadness, even after all theses years, in both the writing and reading of his final years – major struggles with both infirmity and keeping himself involved in the musical world at large! he had aways been a very sociable, free human spirit and indeed, a bit of a party animal, to say the least, indulging himself all the usual enchantments and trappings of the creative, artistic lifestyle.
His wife Jelka, who, a recognised and inspired painter, in a sense, almost gave up her professional career, so as to spend time with, and add massive encouragement to her husband, and of course in Delius’s later years, would end up neglecting her own artistic endeavours totally, and would devote all her time and efforts to her ailing husband. Yes, reading the final years of this musical, and sometimes, tortured soul is a little distressing, but we can only admire his determination to continue his true life to his last hours, in his house in the french countryside – composing music, of passion, subtlety, power and delicacy and all in equal measure, that is the genius of Delius!!
A source of much enlightening information about Delius, one of Britain’s greatest composers, obviously, but also enthrallingly, into his and many other artists lives, both before after the 1914 -18 war in Europe.
So, to sum up. I really enjoyed this book, obviously containing information about Delius we already know quite well, from other sources, such as sleeve notes from recordings, as well as other books, the majority of the book was new to me, and certainly will be to most readers, so makes it a must read and one which should be added to your bookshelf. Many anecdotes, and stories of Delius and his exploits, are contained in this well presented book, including about his boat journeys during WW1, dodging between mines and warships, so he could reach his beloved northern lands!!
If you would like to hear some tremendous music of Delius, I will be playing many, and a wide variety, of his works, over the coming months on radio show ’Trust Me……I’m A Composer!’ each Saturday on Fab Radio International, so tune in.
Anyway, enough said. Write a note, leave around the house, or accidentally drop said note in the office, but whichever way you choose, let everyone know you’d really like this book – if your birthday is due soon, or any other excuse for someone to treat you a great read, let them know how keen you are! Or, even get yourself out to a shop, online, whatever you prefer, but get a copy, sit down with a glass of something nice and smooth, put on some music of Delius and get totally absorbed in his ‘soundworld’, you wont be dissapointed – trust me…….I’m a composer!
Review by Peter Byrom-smith