AS THE SUMMER OF 2018 draws to a close this weekend, I relive the many joyous days just passed by listening to what is arguably the best work of the English composer, Frederick Delius – his tone poem A Song of Summer. Based on A Poem of Life and Love that Delius had written in 1918 but never performed or published, the vast and spacious opening of A Song of Summer was dictated by Delius to his amanuensis Eric Fenby, who then interwove themes from the earlier work into the fabric of Delius’ invention. The result is Delius purified and refined with themes of heart-quickening beauty and harmonies of opulent voluptuousness scored with supreme sensuousness. Of course, being composed by Delius, A Song of Summer has no rhythm and very little form: the harmonies move at their own ecstatically indolent speed and the form is essentially erotic, featuring a pair of orgasmic climaxes preceded by rising passion and followed by languor.
Delius explained the context of the tone poem to Fenby as follows:
“I want you to imagine we are sitting on the cliffs of heather and looking out over the sea. The sustained chords in the high strings suggest the clear sky and stillness and calm of the scene…You must remember that figure that comes in the violins when the music becomes more animated. I’m introducing it there to suggest the gentle rise and fall of the waves. The flutes suggest a seagull gliding by.”
Sir Henry J. Wood conducted the premiere in London 87 years ago on 17 September 1931. Fenby himself also recorded the work, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a recording released in 1981. Earlier on, in 1968, the tone poem lent its title to the 1968 Ken Russell film ‘Song of Summer’, which depicted Eric Fenby’s life as Delius’s amanuensis. The music appears in the film, along with other Delius works.
Listen now on YouTube to the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Barbirolli performing in this 1967 recording A Song of Summer.
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Copyright © 2018 Azim Lewis Mayadas