Notes on Frederick Delius, "La
Calinda" from Koanga,
"A Late Lark," and
"Morning" and "Night"
from Florida Suite
Delius (1862-1934) was born in Bradford, England. His German-born father, a prominent wool
merchant, planned for him to share someday in the family enterprise. That wish, however,
was in vain, for the younger man had neither the interest in business nor the aptitude for
it. An attempt by the elder Delius to establish his son as an orange grower in Florida
(1884-1885) was equally unsuccessful from an entrepreneurial perspective; but the
imaginative, impressionable young man derived great cultural enrichment from his stay in
the post-reconstruction American South. There his artistic horizons were broadened by
exposure to the always sultry, often sensuous, and occasionally seamy environs of the
tropics. There also he received what he later declared to be the most meaningful musical
instruction in his life, namely lessons in theory and musical interpretation from Thomas
Ward, an accomplished and somewhat out-of-place musician in Jacksonville. In addition,
Delius there became immersed in musical genres and sounds that ultimately influenced not
merely his compositional style but his entire artistic outlook which eschewed many
traditional European musical dicta. Particularly important were the dances, songs, and
singing practices of the black plantation workers.
Following the failure of his agricultural venture, Delius had a brief sojourn in Danville,
Virginia, where he supported himself as a teacher and organist. He then undertook study of
composition in 1886 at the Leipzig Conservatory under Sitt, Reinecke, and Jadassohn. On
concluding his training, Delius, with the aid of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg,
persuaded his father to underwrite his efforts as a freelance composer in Paris. There
Delius led a footloose existence, sowed more than a few wild oats, and quite possibly
would have died penniless, relatively young, and unknown once his father's support ended
had he not met and eventually married Jelka Rosen, an artist in the unusual circumstance
of being heiress to a modest fortune.
Delius and Rosen began living together in 1897, in the French town of Grez-sur-Loing, near
Fontainebleau. Following their marriage in 1903, Delius's compositions came to be more and
more a record of his intellectual and emotional pilgrimage through life. The resultant
intensification of an already unique and deeply personal style gave rise to works that
were marked by quiet reflection and introspection in some cases and by passionate but
tasteful outpourings in others. In all instances there is hedonistic sensuality coupled to
a pervasive sense of "the tragic brevity of life and the ephemerality of its
pleasures." Not surprising, therefore, are the frequent descriptions of Delius's
music as wistful and bittersweet. Equally unsurprising is his being called "the last
great apostle of romantic beauty in music" by his younger friend, amanuensis, and
protege Eric Fenby.
music of Delius does not altogether reflect any of the stylistic trends that marked the
first third of the twentieth century, yet neither is his postromanticism strictly of the
familiar, sometimes overripe, late nineteenth- through early twentieth-century
variety. Further, the man and his music were, apart from their common sybaritism,
character opposites. Most who have heard even a small amount of Delius's work find their
impressions difficult to reconcile with his having been almost totally devoid of love,
respect, or even positive feelings for any but a very few individuals; and his attitude
toward most other composers, both living and dead, was generally negative. The consequence
of his stylistic uniqueness stemming in part from the peculiarities of his personality is
that his music has had the undeserved misfortune of being little more than a footnote, or
at best a sentence, in musical history up to the present. This, however, has been and
remains offset by the almost religious loyalty given Delius's work by its relatively small
circle of enthusiasts, most of whom are, or have been, either professional musicians or
Koanga, composed in 1895-97 and first performed in 1904, was a three-act opera that,
in its use of a black principal character, preceded George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
by nearly four decades and was roughly contemporaneous with Scott Joplin's Treemonisha.
Delius's poignant work, with a libretto by Charles Francis Keary, was based on a tragic
episode in George Washington Cable's The Grandissimes (1800), in which an African
prince (Bras-Coupe in The Grandissimes, Koanga in the opera) was sold
into slavery and transported to the American South.
calinda ("La Calinda") from the second act of the opera continues to enjoy
popularity as an independent concert piece, and it also appears, in an earlier version, in
the Florida Suite. The origins of the calinda (Spanish: calenda) as a
dance genre are uncertain, but it is thought to have arisen among the natives of what is
now the Guinea Coast sometime before the thirteenth century. The dance was encountered
there by Spanish sailors and adventurers who, captivated by its soft but insistent,
syncopated pulsations, took it back to Spain with them. From there it spread to the rest
of continental Europe and South America, where it often was called the zamacueca.
entered North America both directly from Africa and indirectly by way of the West Indies.
Some accompanying Spanish musical influence, via the West Indian route, seems
likely. With the less reserved bamboula, the calinda was a favorite of
slaves who danced in Congo Square, in New Orleans, prior to the American Civil War. Both
dances remained popular with former slaves and their descendants following the war and
reconstruction. The African tradition of dancers wearing jingling metal disks or strips on
ankle bands gave way in the ante-bellum United States to the wearing of small bells.
Credit for this innovation is given to Bras-Coupe in African-American folklore.
text of "A Late Lark" reveals the lesser-known side of William Ernest Henley
(1849-1903), who is more widely known, and often unjustly maligned, for his
"Invictus." Unlike the more famous work, which represents Henley's coming to
grips with the lifelong -- and ultimately life-shortening -- complications of childhood
tuberculosis, "A Late Lark" manifests an ultimate sense of triumph, a quiescent
acceptance of circumstances, and the realization that a short life, even one marked by
physical discomfort, does not have to be either unhappy or unsuccessful. Undoubtedly the
views expressed in the poem struck a particularly resonant chord in Delius, who spent
about the last thirty years of his life acutely aware of the progressive and incurable
nature of his own illness. Fenby, who helped Delius complete the setting of the text,
reports that "A Late Lark" became increasingly dear to Delius in his final years
which were marked by both the blindness and the paralysis of late-stage syphilis.
most important of Delius's compositions to emerge from his years in North America was the Florida
Suite of 1888. In this work are early manifestations of the elements that came to be
more smoothly blended into Delius's mature compositions: lushly sensuous but transparent
orchestral textures, relaxed but judicious use of chromatic dissonance and non- or delayed
resolution to create a persistently shimmering effect within a distinctly tonal fabric,
and melodic and harmonic
anhemitonicism characteristic of the folk music of the American
South, of Delius's homeland, and of Scandinavia, to which he also had strong personal
ties. The prominent influence of Grieg is especially evident in the first part of
"Morning," the opening movement of the suite; and the earlier version of
"La Calinda" comprises the second portion of that movement. The finale,
"Night," like Mendelssohn's nocturne from the incidental music to A Midsummer
Night's Dream, uses the French horn -- the quintessential romantic of the brass family
-- to state its principal thematic material, but the statement of the secondary theme in
the upper strings and the use of woodwinds and strings in transitional passages was more
prophetic of what was to be Delius's mature style.
Suggestions for Further
Carley, Lionel, editor. Delius - a Life in
Letters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Cooper, Martin, editor. The Modern Age, Volume 10
of The New Oxford History of Music. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Fenby, Eric. Delius as I Knew Him. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Orrego-Salas, Juan. "Calenda," Harvard
Dictionary of Music, Willi Apel, editor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1969, p. 121.
Palmer, Christopher. Liner Notes in The Fenby
Legacy - Music of Delius (1862-1934). Recorded under the auspices of the Delius Trust.
London: Unicorn-Kamchana, 1981
Payne, Anthony. "Frederick Delius," in The
New Grove Twentieth-Century English Masters. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986, pp. 69-96.
Reprint of article from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley
Sadie, editor. London and Washington, D.C.: Macmillan, 1980.
Pirie, Peter J. The English Musical Renaissance. New York: St. Martin's Press,
Dr. J. Marshall
is a native of
where he also currently lives. He is both a
string music educator and a
Oklahoma Baptist University, 1970;
M.Mus. - Musicology,
University of North Texas, 1973; Ph.D. - Musicology, University of North
Texas, 1984) with specialization in the
history of bowed string instruments,
oral-aural musical transmission, British and
British-American folk music, and British academic music of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. His
doctoral dissertation has
been published by University Microfilms, International
No. 8423854, "Dissertation Services"),
and he has published
post-doctoral studies in
professional journals and presented papers in his areas of specialization at
regional, national, and international academic convocations in both the United
States and Great Britain. He also is the author of encyclopedia articles on
John Avery Lomax, Alan Lomax, and Percy Aldridge Grainger; and he has
published on the Internet. In addition to his pedagogic and academic pursuits,
he is a
Welsh crwth, a
composer and arranger for
string and vocal ensembles (publications on
sibeliusmusic.com, from December of
2004), and a forensic
musicological consultant and expert witness in copyright
and intellectual property misappropriation disputes
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