Delius’ America


Two major European composers became smitten with American “Negro folk” melodies. Both spent time in America and both absorbed these folk tunes into their own compositions. One was Antonin Dvorak and the other was Englishman Frederick Delius.

Delius’ father was a hard-working German immigrant in Yorkshire, England. He expected his sons to follow in his footsteps into the wool trade. Frederick, however, had different ideas. As a last-ditch effort to get his son into business, Delius’ father bought an orange grove in Florida. He hoped that this would convince his son to give up his dream to become a composer. Instead, Frederick spent his Florida days getting to know the locals and soaking up the sounds from the ex-slaves who sang and played on the Florida plantations.

American Rhapsody is one of two versions of a set of variations on an old slave song. The rhapsody is the shorter of the two and was combined with other, more familiar American themes. Delius was unsatisfied with this version and returned to the song later in the more successful Appalachia.

The Florida Suite was written in 1887 when Delius was 24. It was his first major orchestral composition, written while the composer was attending the Leipzig Conservatory of Music. To get it performed, Delius provided the musicians with a keg of beer. The movement “By the River” is the closest to a big Romantic melody the composer ever came.

Delius first heard the ex-slave song with which he’d base Appalachia on while he was living in Danville, Virginia, teaching violin. The work, which was scored for chorus, orchestra and baritone soloist, was completed in 1903.

We’ll hear these works by Delius on An English Pastorale, Sunday at 9 am.

Children’s Tales

potter mouse

On the next English Pastorale, we’ll hear music inspired by tales for children.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote only one work intended for the ballet stage. Old King Cole was written for the English Folk Dance Society’s Cambridge branch, which premiered the work on June 5, 1923, at Trinity College. It was written for orchestra with an optional wordless chorus.

John Lanchbery used Victorian themes as the basis for his score for Royal Ballet’s film Tales of Beatrix Potter. The film was devised as a story presented in entirely visual terms with no words. Five stories from Potter were chosen for the production.

Frederick Delius set his musical sights on the folk-tales from the Norwegians Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Engebretsen Moe. The music doesn’t follow the stories as a symphonic poem would, but describes the feel and mood of the whole collection of stories through music.

Here’s an excerpt from Lanchbery’s Tales of Beatrix Potter.

Local artist feature – Rachel Grimes


While Lunchtime Classics takes its summer break, we’re looking back at some of the program’s featured artists.

Rachel Grimes is a pianist, composer, and arranger based in Kentucky. She has achieved a certain amount of fame in the ground-breaking chamber ensemble Rachel’s, with whom she toured and released six albums. Rachel’s solo releases include Book of Leaves, Marion County 1938, and Compound Leaves.

Grimes’s music defies a tidy description. Her music crosses many genres, from classical to jazz to ambient to Americana. BBC reviewer Spencer Grady said of her solo debut album that…

“Her most wondrous gift was always her ability to paint the most evocative pictures in purest ivory and her lightness of touch allows majestic statements such as the Corner Room and Long Before Us to ring out, echoing with sensuousness and sentiment before drawing the listener back in.”

Grimes is one of the artists included in the June 2014 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, highlighting artistic interpretations of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Rachel Grimes’ Anthem for Flag Day

old glory

In its June 2014 issue, the Smithsonian Magazine is highlighting artistic interpretations of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” from visual and graphic art, poetry to music. Included in the collection is Rachel Grimes, who composed this arrangement of our National Anthem, shifting it’s bright, major-key melody to a more contemplative, minor key.

Arrangements of The Star-Spangled Banner are common – most every version sung at a sporting event is an arrangement (sometimes to its detriment). Igor Stravinsky arranged our national hymn for a Boston performance, where the police misunderstood a law prohibiting the tampering with The Star-Spangled Banner. Stravinsky, who became a US citizen the following year, withdrew it from the performance (the score and parts were confiscated, but Stravinsky was not arrested).

Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance ranks as one of the more memorable.

And you can join this national sing-a-long on June 14th at 4pm.
star spangled banner

English Piano Concertos

delius at piano

The Piano Concerto in C by Ralph Vaughan Williams was written in 1926 and 1930-31 (movement 3). It premiered in February, 1933, by Harriet Cohen, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra directed by Sir Adrian Boult. The Finale was edited later and the work was published in 1936. The concerto was not well received at first, being considered unrewarding to the soloist. Though the piece provides ample opportunity for virtuosity in all movements, Vaughan Williams treated the piano as a percussion instrument instead of a melodic instrument.

Bela Bartók was extremely impressed with the work, and yet Vaughan Williams took the advice of friends and reworked the piece into a Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, adding more texture to the piano parts.

The final version of Frederick Delius’s Piano Concerto is a work in one continuous movement. However it began life as a three-movement composition. Delius was inspired to write a concerto for piano and orchestra after witnessing a performance of the concerto by Edvard Grieg. After sketching out a few measures, however, Delius became disillusioned. His interest in the work was reignited after a conversation with Ferrucio Busoni.

On this week’s English Pastorale, we’ll hear the original versions of both the Vaughan Williams and Delius piano concertos.

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Piano Concerto in C
Frederick Delius – Piano Concerto