I was first introduced to the music of Frederick Delius back in 1968 via Ken Russell’s brilliant biographical film portrait: Song of Summer. The film dealt with Delius’s last six years of life, when he was a cantankerous old man; blind, paralysed, and dealing with tertiary syphilis. It is a superb film. Apparently, Eric Fenby, who was Delius’s amanuensis at the time, found the film so true to life that he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of seeing it.
We’ve had to wait nearly 45 years for another film portrait of Delius. Last night, we got it, in the shape of John Bridcut’s glorious film documentary: Delius: Lover, Composer, Enigma shown on BBC Four. This took a view of the whole of Delius’s life, from growing up as Fritz Delius in a German family in Bradford, through his time in Florida, and the flesh-pots of Paris, to his old age in Grez-sur-Loing, when he was married to the long-suffering Jelka Rosen.
It was simply stunning. And it has made me want to explore more of Delius’s music – particularly his early work. His opera Koanga pre-dates Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess by thirty years, and his A Mass of Life celebrates the joy of life, without religious overtones.
John Bridcut does good work – his biography of Benjamin Britten: Britten’s Children, which I read before I saw his documentary film on which the book was based, alerted me to his talent. Delius: Lover, Composer, Enigma is equally good. It contains many interviews, both current and archival material (e.g. Sir Thomas Beecham – a champion of Delius’s music), that elucidate Delius’s genius. I’ve just ordered more CDs of Delius’s music as a result. Thank you, Mr. Bridcut. And thank you, Frederick Delius.