Sunday 27 March 2011

Sea Drift

Astrid and I went to a fantastic concert in Manchester last Thursday where we heard Delius's 'Sea Drift' which was a profound experience for me because it took me back to music which I was devoted to in my teens and have largely ignored since (partly through the snobbery about Delius in academic music circles). But it really is pure magic, and all the questions that buzzed through my head when I was a teenager came flooding back: how does he do it? Why does this sound so magical?

My first thought now is that the nature of a music is a caress. Musical caresses take a variety of forms. Much is achieved through texture: a suspended note which is then accompanied with a rich harmony a moment later. Suspensions in 16th century polyphony are of this sort... As are Bach fugues.

What about the melting harmonies of Delius? These are closely related to tritone substitution techniques of jazz (he learnt this when he was on the Florida cotton plantations). What do they do? How do they caress? I think they slow down the caressing motion by subtly disrupting expectations, and hovering between disruption and exhortation.

The caress is there, but it is distended. The technique is similar to Wagner's Tristan. But Delius does something Wagner doesn't... The climax isn't there... Just a continual seduction which suggests the possibility of a climax.  Wagner's prolongations are directed; Delius's prolongation is there for its own sake... Simply there to be magical.

No comments: