Frederick Delius-Lullaby for a Modern Baby (1923)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin
Recording Outtake-30 10 14 (St Michael’s Highgate)
Fredrick Delius – Group including Frederick Delius and Philip Arnold Heseltine by Ernest Procter pencil, 1929
Delius was largely self-taught, like Elgar, and came from a German commercial family which had settled in Bradford. Roy Strong pointed out his anti-modernist stance: ‘In common with others of his generation he reacted strongly against the world of industry.’
This somewhat shadowy group speaks volumes-the great master at the end of his life, and behind him the shadowy figure of Philip Heseltine, aka Peter Warlock, one of the great animateurs of British music making. Heseltine was responsible for work ranging from revelatory editions of Elizabethan music, to rare original compositions of surpassing delicacy, to his work presenting Bartók to audiences from London to Aberystwyth.
Bartok-Duo 23 Peter Sheppard Skaerved/Mihailo Trandafilovski
‘[Cecil Gray 1929]: ‘Delius has been living practically uninterruptedly in France, first in Paris, then at the little village of Grèz-sur-Loing, without ever taking an active part in musical life. This aloofness and detachment are everywhere reflected in his work, and constitute an important element of its irresistible appeal and fascination.’’
Twelve years earlier, Cecil Gray had been exempt from military service with cardiac problems heart. He had moved to careful isolation in Cornwall, appalled, that his erstwhile friends had threatened to riot were he and Heseltine had given a concert of Béla Bartók, considered an enemy alien. In 1922, Heseltine would bring Bartok to London to perform with Jelly d’Aranyi.
Clearly, there are many creators, such as Delius and Rainier, who see m to draw strength from independence from the expected groups and salons. There is a marked contrast between Cecil Gray’s assurance that isolation accorded Delius his ‘appeal and fascination’ and William Glock’s later statement that Priaulx Rainier lost out by her solitude.
Delius met the pianist/composer Percy Grainger at John Singer Sargent’s house, 31 Tite Street, Chelsea in April 1907. This had been Whistler’s house in the 1880’s, and Gabriel Fauré stayed there the following March (1908).
Ghosts drift through the streets that these people walked, veiled memories of the transparent pedestrians that float in the earliest photographs of London. Twenty-two years after Fauré’s visit, Philip Heseltine committed suicide in the house next door to Sargent’s.
On the 4th May 1888, the 26 year old Delius had supper with Grieg at the Hotel Metropole on Northumberland Avenue. This meeting laid the ground work for Grieg persuading Delius’s father to allow his son to be a musician.
These meetings are repeated again and again. At the back of Grieg’s mind was, maybe, his meeting with the ‘Nordic Paganini’ some decades earlier. It had been this man, Ole Bull, who had persuaded Grieg’s own parents that he should be allowed to study music, and arranged for him to go to Leipzig, where Mendelssohn had been Kapellmeister. One of the threads, finding it way through these connecting threads of influence, is a chain of pedagogy, a ‘paying it forward’.
Osbert Sitwell, who is a peripheral figure in the lives and ideas of so much of this exhibit, was lyrical on the subject of Delius:
[Osbert Sitwell] ‘It was at 20 Cavendish Square [Nancy Canard’s House] that I first met Delius, and for him I cherished a feeling of the deepest respect, not only for his music, with it warm, melodious climate, but because he was the one Englishman I have ever met who knew personally the giants of the post-impressionist movement, recognised them for what they were, and was privileged to frequent their studios. He used, for example to attend the Sunday at-homes of the Douanier Rousseau, social occasions that now exhale a legendary quality unrivalled in the art history of a period comparatively near to us. Thus, Delius linked the present day to a fabulous past, and though then still in middle age was a solitary as survivor here as would be the last Blue Man in Tasmania … I do not know that his looks precisely interpreted this nature. He was rather tall and thin, possessed a high, narrow forehead, an aquiline nose, delicately cut, and a finely-drawn face, of the Roman intellectual type. Though it is true that his head shoed every sign of distinction, he might, from his appearance, more easily have been a great lawyer than a great composer. In talking – and he was a voluble and delightful conversationalist- his tongue betrayed, not an accent, exactly, but a slight foreign stress and lilt, attractive, and personal enough to make contrast with the theories and speculations of which is soliloquies were full, for he loved abstract ideas with the passion of a Latin for them-the English hate them-a and though he formulated them with all the a clever Englishman’s’ love of paradox, there was, nevertheless, a certain stringency pertaining to them. The most gifted of English composers living at that time, head and shoulders above his bump buttercup-and-daisy confreres, a musician of the world, he found himself somewhat of a stranger in London. … The later advocacy of Philip Heseltine, who served the cause of his music with unfaltering devotion, should also be mentioned.
Heseltine himself was determined that music should be kept for the people, and not the purview of academics and critics:
[Heseltine] ‘…the simplest and most natural questions of then non-musician are apt to prove the most embarrassing to the theorist or the critic who as so long taken these elementary problems for granted as already solved, that he has no answer but gibberish or evasion. The plain man is kept perpetually in the position of the child who is ‘not old enough’ for intelligence he demands. Nevertheless the general public has frequently welcomed and understood the man of original creative genius long before his fellow-composers and critics have ceased chattering their protests against his drunken and disorderly conduct. / [Hence] it is to be hoped that something may be done to break down the barrier of unnecessary modesty which so frequently prevents the non-professional music lover from contributing to discussions on musical subjects, by showing him that music in is not the esoteric mystery that many of its professors and pseudo-critical jargon mongers would have him believe, and that he only honourable ideal of the musical critic is so to educate and enlighten his public that he himself, as a professional institution, will in the end become unnecessary.’ [Foreword to The Sackbut 1920]
Michael Tippett recalled how the two Harrison sisters attended to Delius’s Funeral. May Harrison had been the inspiration for Elgar’s mysterious Cello Concerto, and famously, played the cello to the nightingales in her garden.
‘Quite near me in Limpfield lived the wonderfully eccentric Harrison sisters. I used to visit them from time to time and inspect their pet alligator….In 1935 May and Beatrice went off to bring back to England the body of Delius, who had died the previous year at Grèz-sur-Loing. In fulfilment of his wishes, they arranged for him to be buried in his native country, choosing a spot near their own mother’s grave at Limpsfield Parish Church. I myself attended the funeral.’
Earlier the same year, Tippett had seen Delius in person.
Michael Tippett: ‘Some time later in 1929, I attended h Delius Festival in London and well recollect the blind composer being lifted up to received an ovation after The Mass of Life.’
This story is one that is told again and again; a young artist one who will write epochal works, attends a celebration of a great older musician. Tippett, as yet, unknown, was in the Queens Hall when Procter was drawing Delius. Maybe, the public acclaim for the Mass of Life nurtured the desire to write works such as A Child of our Time, or even more, The Mask of Time. I recognise his experience. I was in the audience for the British premier of the Mask of Time-unseen amongst the ‘prommer’s. Ten years later, found myself discussing day-time television with the composer, and recording his quartets.
The Spirit of Britain, Roy Strong, Hutchinson, P.580
Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Study of Chamber Music, Compiled and Edited by WW Cobbett, OUP, London, 1929, Volume 1, P. 321
The Married Man: a life of D H Lawrence, Brenda Maddox, Minerva, London 1993, P244
A Musical Gazeteer of Great Britan and Ireland, Gerald Norris, David Charles, Newton Abbot/London, 1981, P.58
Peter Warlock committed suicide at 30 Tite Street on 17th December 1930.[v]
A Musical Gazeteer of Great Britan and Ireland, Gerald Norris, David Charles, Newton Abbot/London, 1981, P.63
Great Morning, Osbert Sitwell, Macmillan, London, 1948, Pp.252-3
Pleasures of Music, ed. Jacques Barzun, Cassell, London, 1977, Pp.40-1
Those twentieth century blues, Michael Tippett, Pimlico, London 1994, P.24
Those twentieth century blues, Michael Tippett, Pimlico, London 1994 P.18