Friday 10 May 2024

Delius's Idyll

When I was about 14 or 15 I fell in love with the music of Delius. I had a few LPs, and one of them had a recording of the Requiem on one side, and on the other his setting of Whitman poems from "Leaves of Grass" - "Idyll", which was assembled by Eric Fenby with Delius in the 1930s. It was magical music - the Requiem's unconventional (and perhaps shocking) nihilism about sensual pleasure and the enjoyment of life resonated with my teenage mood, but the Idyll was the piece which really struck me.

Whitman's poetry is beautiful, erotic and mystical:

"Once I pass'd through a populous city,

Imprinting my brain with all its shadows.

Of that city I remember only a woman,

A woman I casually detained,

Who detained me for love of me.

Day by day and night by night we were together --

 all else has been forgotten by me."

But the music is something else. There's an extraordinary bluesy climax set to the words "What is it to us what the rest do or think/ What is all else to us who have voided all/ but freedom and all but our own joy." (section from about 16' 28'')

The music and words are really one giant fantasy - but what a fantasy! And then again, I'm now reminded that fantasies are not "made-up": they are real. Indeed, as both Tolkein and C.S. Lewis thought, fantasy is more real than reality: it is the place where we hope and dream, which is the essence of what it is to be human. The make-believe is the humdrum monotony of the world - that world is false. The music speaks the truth though: "Dearest comrade all is over and long gone, But love is not over."

Tolkien called fairy stories a "casement of the outer world": they were a space to explore possibility.  They are fundamental to humanity. Moreover, losing sight of fantasy is a deathly way to live. 

Also, sometimes, something happens in the outer world which is remarkably close to what happens in the casement. That's a reminder that there really is something "bigger than ourselves", and that it is our dreams which are our compass and guide. John Torday sees this perception of something bigger than ourselves as a reference to our fundamental connection to the cosmos. I think Delius might have agreed. 

I was once quite critical of an eminent music scholar who at a conference went on about the love letters of a composer and how they influenced what he (it was a he) did. I said that people deceive each other (I wasn't feeling particularly romantic at the time!) - I said it's easy to say stuff like "I love you" in a letter - but is it real? Now I think I was not quite right. Sometimes it's very real, and the energy that flows from it is indeed causal in remarkable things happening - like Delius's music.

(I've given up on comments on my blog - too much spam trying to sell me Viagra! So if you want to feed-back, do it here:  and I'll post them up)

No comments: