Frederick Delius: Song of Summer

Delius’ music paints rich soundscapes of lush vistas that stretch from Yorkshire to Florida. This piece, in particular, always evokes for me a happy time when I was discovering new worlds brought to me by people living in my dorm (the French House at Indiana University) during my sophomore year of college in 1975.

Before moving into the French House, I had never heard the term “polymath.” Not only did I learn the meaning of the word–someone with encyclopedic knowledge–it seemed like every other person at the French house was one. Take Michael Dr***.

Michael was majoring in Uralic and Altaic studies at Indiana University. Uralic refers to people of Finnish and Hungarian background, whose languages are related. Altaic covers people of Turkish origin. I don’t know how he got interested in that field, especially coming from some podunk town in Indiana. But that was just the start. Michael also spoke French, and was taking Chinese, Turkish and Uighur, a language spoken by medieval Turks. Even more astounding, he also took music composition classes in the school of music!

Michael dressed meticulously, spoke articulately, and expressed his emotions with a wry sense of humor. His eclecticism fascinated me: he could keep up with Mark Z*** on his Byzantine rifts and later go up to Liz K****’s room and lip synch to the greatest hits of Diana Ross and the Supremes. He was also double-jointed in the elbow, and would send people running by resting his palms on the table with the elbows pointing toward you and then lean forward, bowing them in the opposite direction they should.

One day, Michael came to Marks’s room very excited about a piece of music he had recently heard. This was Delius’ Song of Summer. Delius was born in Bradford, England, and as a youth his father sent him to Florida to take run an orange plantation. Delius eventually persuaded his father to let him return to Europe to study music, which he did with Edvard Grieg. He composed a number operas, which became well known, but by the time he was 65, he was living in France, completely blind and paralyzed, the result of a youthful case of syphilis. Around that time, a young English composer named Eric Fenby heard about Delius’ condition and went to stay with him, eventually becoming his amanuensis (which comes from a the Roman word for a slave who does shorthand.) Fenby spent 5 years (unpaid) transcribing some of Delius’ most beautiful works.

This was the detail that Michael seized upon. “He composed A Song of Summer when he was blind with syphilis! And listen to it. It is one of the most lush and beautiful pieces every written. It’s full of light!”

And indeed it is. It starts out with a low rumbling, almost giving the impression of a storm that has just passed. Then, a flute wells up, like a bird singing in the clearing afternoon. The orchestra eventually takes over, welling up and playing a passionate melody that celebrates life and the wonder of nature.

I was mesmerized, not by the music, but by the quality of minds surrounding me in that tiny oasis in the middle of cornfields and rolling hills.

Biography

Download MP3 of A Song of Summer from Amazon

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

2 Responses to Frederick Delius: Song of Summer

  1. Karyl says:

    What a beautiful piece. The music, and your reminiscence. Thanks for the follow.

    Like

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