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I have been listening to the music of Frederick Delius this week and researching his life, in preparation for a lecture next week. I have never been particularly drawn to his writing, although it is certainly interesting, and it is fascinating to find out that somebody who is so often held up as quintessentially English was, apart from his love of cricket, nothing of the sort. Even On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring is based on a Nordic folksong.

For all the influence of Wagner and Grieg, however, it is the sound world of Debussy which is most often brought to mind by his writings, one that is barely mentioned in the sources I have read. Maybe it is just my personal reaction, but there certainly seems to be an aural link there.

Delius the man is somebody with whom I have more problems. Described as dashing in his youth and leaving behind trails of broken hearts, these days he would probably have been described in less kindly terms, and he certainly seems to have treated those around him with rather selfish lack of consideration as he leapt from brothel to morgue. Of course, the syphilis which paralysed and blinded him was too harsh a rebuke for the follies of youth, just as it was for Schubert, Schumann and countless others. I am still waiting to hear the piece of Delius which will grab me and not let me go, so maybe I shall stumble upon it this weekend.

However, while catching up on my Composer Of The Week podcasts yesterday I finally arrived at the “English Pastoralists” episode, mentioning Delius in passing. At one point a song began, and I was immediately gripped by the way it hinted at doing the obvious and the sentimental, but then, at the last moment, would turn another and more unexpected way, entering a new and more intimate sound world. I knew who had written it before the excerpt had ended, and Donald Macleod merely confirmed what I already knew. It was that man Ivor Gurney again.

Gurney in hospital, 1917.