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  • Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 20: Frederick Delius

Frederick Delius is one of my favorite English composers, although his music doesn’t necessarily sound English. Much of it actually bears the influence of Wagner, Grieg, and French Impressionism; as well as African-American music to which Delius was exposed on a trip to Florida.

Although English by birth, Delius and his wife actually spent most of their lives together in Paris and the surrounding area, hence the French Impressionist harmonies that often permeate his music. Delius composed in virtually every genre available to him, from opera to chamber music and stand-alone orchestral works. While his instrumental music often enjoyed critical praise, those same critics were typically less fond of his vocal writing. In my experience, two of his works constitute about 98% of all his concert program appearances: the Two Pieces for Small Orchestra (comprised of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and Summer Night on the River) and “The Walk to the Paradise Garden,” which is actually an orchestral interlude from his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet…but today, we’re covering the Prelude to his opera Irmelin :)


The opera Irmelin was Delius’s first, although it was not premiered until after his death. As above, the instrumental music was praised, but not the vocal writing nor the libretto. Taking a page from Wagner’s playbook, Delius had written all of those things himself. The opera, to my knowledge, is never performed; and the Prelude is almost never performed. Here’s the thing… Delius didn’t actually compose the Prelude with the intention of having it actually precede the opera; rather, he composed it much later as a stand-alone concert work which uses themes from the opera!


I was first introduced to Delius and this particular piece by two of my dearest teachers and friends: Tonu Kalam and Jim Anderson. This post is for them.

The performance is the Hallé Orchestra led by Sir John Barbirolli: https://youtu.be/Btt3UHJALUQ


Enjoy! :)

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