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Delius's Stylistic Development

Anthony Payne

Looking at Delius's music in chronological order, we discover a pattern of development more continuous than an almost life-long reliance on the same technique might suggest. An increasing richness of chord structure, bearing with it its own subtle means of contrast and development, slowly but surely ousted more conventional methods; slowly, that is, apart from the startling jump with which his music suddenly acquired full stature, only to resume its steady progress. As a young man he was far from being the dreamer we might think; in fact, he was very much an adventurer, always on the move, and thoroughly cosmopolitan. We can well imagine that he had little time for contemplation, so that his attitude to beauty would be, at first, conventionally picturesque, and devoid of personal involvement. Bearing in mind that his avowed intention as a composer was to express his emotions, we need not be surprised that with as yet little opportunity for the tranquil recollection needed to crystallize personal emotion, his early music is content to lean on Grieg and early Wagner. As time passed, and his poetic vision deepened, his models served him less satisfactorily until he finally dropped them. This process, probably unconscious, might well have been speeded up if he had been less absorbed in self-expression, and more interested in abstract formal problems. It could possibly be argued, in comparing the early Florida Suite (1888–1890) with Appalachia (1902)—both seemingly inspired by the same events—that the later work is superior because Delius had found the right means of expression; I think not. The emphasis lies the other way in that he had at last realized to the full the awful transience of love and nature, and there are few composers in whom we feel less inclined to divorce matter from style.