Frederick Delius - the End of Romanticism
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Frederick Delius - the End of Romanticism

A discussion of the late work, Prelude to Irmelin, by the unique Frederick Delius.

Delius composed Prelude to Irmelin in the autumn of 1931 at Grez-sur-Loing. The first performance took place at Covent Garden, London in 1935 when Sir Thomas Beecham used it as an entr’acte in his revival of Delius’ opera, Koanga.

Delius wrote his first opera, Irmelin, to a fairy tale text of his own devising during those early years in Paris when his music was just beginning to make its way. The opera was completed in 1892 and remains little known though a piano reduction of the score was prepared by no less than Florent Schmidtt. At the end of his life the composer turned once again to the poetic ideas that had inspired the opera. As an old man, crippled and blind, he dedicated this prelude, along with many other new or revised scores, to his youthful English amanuensis, Eric Fenby.

The curious story of the collaboration of the two has been told by Mr. Fenby in an altogether remarkable little book, Delius As I Knew Him, from which the following passage about the prelude is taken:

“This enchanting lyric for small orchestra arose out of a few musical ideas that particularly appealed to the composer in his early unpublished and unperformed opera, Irmelin, and, slight though it is, I shall ever be sorry that Delius did not live to hear the lovely sound of it on the orchestra. It was one of the two pieces that Sir Thomas Beecham found it necessary to interpolate during a change of the scenery at the revival of Delius’ third opera, Loanga, at Covent Garden. It is always fascinating to watch the reaction of the men in the orchestra during their playing of a new work for the first time. Usually the impression received by the onlooker as he scans the rows of faces is one of utter boredom and indifference. I shall not forget the smiles of approval and delightful comments that accumulated its Lydian measures when Sir Thomas first rehearsed it at Covent Garden.”

The prelude is a brief suggestive page that distills a mood of dreaming expectancy. The key is F-sharp major, the tempo is Lento. The theme is quietly announced in imitation by flute and clarinet, oboe and clarinet, then violins and violas. The violas add a new figure which is continued by bass clarinet and bassoon. There is a development and a return to the imitative scheme of the opening bars, now played by a solo violin and a solo viola. The bass clarinet reiterates the theme in a whisper, the last notes dying into silence.


* Author's addendum:

* The cover image is a photo of a younger Delius in 1907.

* The embedded audio file (no video file was readily available) is a classic recording of the Royal Philharmonic, Beecham conducting.  I'd certainly recommend this for purchase.  These are only examples.  Please support working artists by purchasing music and art legally.  Thank you.

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Comments (6)
Ranked #14 in Music & Musicians

What a remarkable piece! As I play it, it never reaches 'the last notes dying into silence', cause my mood always do a replay. Great thoughts on music and musicians IIeen, thank you from my heart.

Ranked #4 in Music & Musicians

Beautiful piece. I love the historical background and the use of Delius As I Knew Him.

Ranked #1 in Music & Musicians

Thanks, gentlemen - I wasn't expecting such a positive reaction for this particular piece. Delius probably didn't enjoy the fame he should have.

Ranked #16 in Music & Musicians

A little tame for my tastes, but a lovely piece nevertheless. Thanks, Ileen.

Very moving prelude IIeen, and a fine lament to the great composer.

Ranked #1 in Music & Musicians

Thank you, Peter, I'm glad you enjoyed it.