Nature and Music – A Violinist Discovers a Quiet Space


December 30, 2020, 1:13 PM · You can count the number of performances of Frederick Delius’ music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on one finger, and same for the Berlin Philharmonic, whom I follow often on their Digital Concert Hall. Nevertheless, by some accident of fate, I began to listen to his music a little bit at a time before I realized I was hooked. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and Brigg Fair helped me escape into a world of classical music that had none of the usual associations I had with the general repertoire. They certainly weren’t on any audition list.

I made a YouTube video that combined photographs and “Winter Landscape” from North Country Sketches.

Through images the music came alive more than I could have imagined. Even the images looked more vivid because of the music. Then I collaborated with pianist Leo Marcus, and his desire to play all the Reger sonatas fit perfectly with mine to play all four of Delius’. We played them at the Santa Monica Library in the space of four years.

Even though Delius is rarely performed in the U.S., I am heartened by the great interpreters of his music. John Barbirolli, Thomas Beecham, Mark Elder, and Tasmin Little have left an enormous legacy. Little has produced an excellent two-part documentary on YouTube about Delius’ time in the American South and his love for a woman.

Focus on a French Town

Through YouTube I became acquainted with many wonderful visual associations that illuminate music. I had known about the historic French town where Delius lived in the last half of his life, but I wasn’t prepared for the rush of feelings a particular video would elicit.

Thirty-five miles from Paris is Fontainebleau, and from there it takes twelve minutes by bus to get to Grez-sur-Loing, a popular destination for French landscape painters. The low Roman bridge and the magnificent river invited them to capture the shimmering water and the subtle colors of sunset.

If it hadn’t been for my love of Delius’ music, I would never have heard of Grez. Debilitated by blindness and paralysis, he and his wife Jelka lived there for 38 years. In the last six years of his life, Eric Fenby served as his amanuensis, writing down Delius’ final works. That unique experience among composers was made into a movie, Song of Summer, by Ken Russell, whose film subjects include Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Vaughan-Williams, and Debussy. Considered his finest movie, it captures the difficulty Fenby went through to work with the always demanding Delius.

A Moment of Awe and Revelation

It was through a YouTube video that I discovered what had been missing in my musical perception. The landscape of Grez and the emotional source of the music came rushing at me.

There was such a contrast between all those feelings and my usual connection with music. Between practice time and live performances, countless logistical details and enough competitive distractions to drive out much of the pleasure, I realized I needed a safe harbor away from the mind-boggling routine.

When I happened upon this video, I had never heard Delius’ Idyll Printemps before, nor had I seen the photos of Grez. I experienced all at once the most intimate sounds and harmonies, the subtle shades of the landscape, and a unique creative energy. It was as if the peacefulness in the opening chords, the unfolding of its pastoral nature, and the vision of Grez all came rushing at me. I had never been able to see and hear all of that before, but after this experience, I knew what to look for in the future.

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