Delius

The works of Frederick Delius
Delius. Delius Society

The works of Frederick Delius were the subject of the Society’s evening on April 24th and we were delighted to welcome Martin Lee-Browne, the ex-president of the Delius Society.  This was an informed presentation – not just because Martin knew a great deal about this composer – but because of the family connections he has with him.  His grandfather was a good friend to Delius and also taught Sir Thomas Beecham the famous conductor.  It was Beecham who did so much to promote the composer.

Delius’s father was a wool merchant and wanted his son to go into the business which he did for about 2 years.  His heart was not in it so he then persuaded his father to help set him up in the orange plantation business in Florida which he did for a couple of years.  He then gave that up and moved to Danville in Virginia.

He studied music in Leipzig in 1886 but was unimpressed with the teaching there which he found old fashioned and apparently, they were not too impressed with him.  He met and became friends with the Norwegian Composer Edvard Grieg and persuaded him to come to England to meet his father.  Norway was a big influence on his work and the Song of the High Hills is based on his time there.  Beecham described this as one of the composer’s major works.

His father was so impressed that his son knew someone as famous as Grieg that he continued funding his musical activities for another year.  This he spent living in Montparnasse in Paris.  He struggled to make a living there as a composer.  By 1899 he had managed to get only 20 songs published.

He returned to England and self-funded a concert of his own works which had mixed success but began to get him recognised as a serious composer.  Gradually his pieces entered the repertoire.   Martin played several of his works – including some early compositions which one would not at first sight have realised were by him – as well as selections from his more famous and familiar works.  These included Brigg Fair, the single movement Violin Concerto and Sea Drift, the latter strongly influenced by Walt Whitman.

Martin Lee-Browne. Picture: Salisbury RMS

Martin also brought along some memorabilia included a score annotated in the margin by Percy Grainger.  In 1910 his health seriously declined and he was only able to compose with the aid of Eric Fenby who wrote the music to Delius’s direction.  He lived for most of his life in Grez-sur-Loing in France and he is buried with his wife in Limpsfield in Surrey.

 

 

 

 

Early stereo recordings

The last presentation was by Robin Lim on the subject of early stereo recordings.  We are so used to stereo sound now – either through loud speakers or headphones – that we forget that there was a time when sound was in mono only.  We also think that it is a fairly modern invention: modern in the sense of 60’s when stereo records appeared.  It was an example of technology being ahead of its market in that, although the recordings existed, few people could afford the means to play them.

In fact Robin revealed, stereo existed at the end of the nineteenth century in France.  This was at the Paris Electrical Exhibition in 1881.  Separate telephone lines were used to convey the two tracks and a company was set up to exploit the technology which survived until after the Great War.

Leopold Stokowski – Picture BBC

But it was in the ’30s that stereo started to make its mark and this was linked to parallel developments in being able to store sound for playing later.  An example from this era was Leopold Stokowski playing an excerpt of Die Walkerie by Wagner from 1932.  The recording was surprisingly good but with a degree of background noise.  Nevertheless, the vigour of the recording and the balance between the two speakers was excellent.

An Englishman, Anthony Blumlein, perfected the single track system and with developments in America, the modern stereo record was born.  From 1934, a recording of Sir Thomas Beecham playing part of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony and the quality of the recording was outstanding.  Some modern filtering had probably been applied by even so, it was eminently listenable to.  Sir Thomas once said ‘The English do not like music but they absolutely love the noise it makes!’

Film music on the other hand was developing rapidly and soon had 8 tracks on which to record.  We heard Stokowski again with the Russian dance from the film Fantasia which was made before the war.

During the war, the Allies listened to German radio and were surprised to hear recorded

Walter Gieseking.  Picture: Pininterest

music of high quality being transmitted.  When the war ended there was a rush to find out how the Germans had done it and they had indeed made great technical advances.  Unfortunately, a lot of the recordings were in the Russian sector and most disappeared after the war.  One at least survived and this was Gieseking playing Beethoven’s the Emperor concerto with the Berlin Radio Orchestra, and the sound and playing was simply outstanding.  Indeed, one had to remind oneself that this was a recording from the war and not a modern cd.

Robin also touched on ‘accidental stereo’.  This is where in the early days two recordings were made as a kind of insurance in case one of the machines failed.  Modern technology has enabled these two be blended together to give a stereophonic effect.  Apparently discs were sent to Elgar after the recording was done and he kept them and they have survived.  This has enabled the two recordings to be blended and as an example, we heard an extract from the ‘cello concerto.  We also heard Elgar conducting a version of ‘Oh God our help in ages past’.  This was made in February 1928.  The sound was authentic but the stereo was not so evident.  Even so, a remarkable achievement.

It was a fascinating evening, in which Robin married the development of a technology with the sound it produced.


Before the meeting we had a brief agm.  All the officers were reelected en bloc.  The Society made a small surplus in the year.  The chair thanked all those who opened up, did the refreshments, prepared the programme and also the members who continue to support us.  Over 2,000 people have visited this Web site.  New members are always welcome.  Copies of the programme are in the Oxfam music room, the Tourism Information Centre in Salt Lane and the Collector’s Room in Endless Street.

Next meeting on 17 October.