Letter to the Editor: The Most Cosmopolitan of Composers

Letter to the Editor: The Most Cosmopolitan of Composers

August 13, 2012
Originally published in Financial Times

Sir, Andrew Clark’s appreciation of Frederick Delius and of Sir Thomas Beecham’s Delius recordings is most welcome and perceptive (“Sweet, dreamy, divisive”, Arts, August 8). I hope American audiences and performers take notice because, as an American lover of Delius, I have always been mystified by the almost total neglect of his music in my country. Yet we should claim Delius, as we claim Dvorak, as an adopted American.

Delius lived in the South from 1884 to 1886 and took his first composition lessons from an organist in Jacksonville, Florida, near the orange plantation he was supposed to be managing. A number of his major compositions are based on American sources. Appalachia is variations on “an old slave song”, while the Florida Suite was inspired by sights and sounds on the plantation. His opera Koanga tells the story of an African prince enslaved on a Louisiana plantation. Sea Drift and Songs of Farewell are settings of Walt Whitman poems. Of course, France, Germany and Norway have similar claims on Delius, who has been pigeonholed as a “quintessentially English composer” while in reality he is the most cosmopolitan of modern composers.