march 2011


The Critical Perspective:

‘If only this was the first in a Delius series from these forces.’

Delius Appalachia & The Song of the High Hills

Sir Andrew Davis

Conducting the BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra

By Peter Joelson

Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was born in Bradford and was destined to join the family (wool) business. After a stint in Gloucestershire, the young Delius was posted to Germany, Sweden then France, ever neglecting his work pursuing musical performances. Eventually, in 1884 he went to Florida to grow oranges, continuing his musical education in Virginia and beginning a career in music through teaching and composing. By 1886 his father had become resigned to his son's musical ambitions and agreed to subsidize further education in Leipzig, after which an uncle hosted him in Paris. In 1903, he married the artist Jelka Rosen and lived in Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau for most of the rest of his life. From 1887 summer holidays were spent in the mountains of Norway, an habitual pursuit for Delius until the 1920s when his deteriorating health made travel impossible.

Delius’s Appalachia, part 1

Such extensive travelling provided much inspiration for Delius's music. This excellent release from Chandos includes two works from two periods of his life, Appalachia from 1896 inspired by black workers at a tobacco factory singing an old slave song, and the second from 1912, The Song of the High Hills, inspired by those annual trips to Norway.

Delius’s Appalachia, part 2

Appalachia began life as Appalachia: An American Rhapsody, an orchestral work. In 1902, dissatisfied with it, Delius re-thought the score adding a baritone solo and chorus. The quiet, wide-open almost palpable atmosphere of the introduction and the piece's dying moments are exquisitely caught by Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The first appearance of the slave song has its own magic as it emerges organically like the flowering of a water lily. Equally impressive is the first entrance of the chorus. The timbre of Andrew Rupp's voice suits the baritone part very well, a big, bold sound. Alun Jenkins, soloist in Sir John Barbirolli's wonderful recording on EMI has greater richness and beauty, Rupp more power. Sir Thomas Beecham, a great champion of Delius and who edited Appalachia, did not re-record the work in stereo after his 1938 recording, and fine though that performance is, it cannot begin to compete sonically with the superb sound from Chandos.

Delius’s Appalachia, part 3

The Song of the High Hills is once again scored for large orchestra with a chorus wholly a part of the texture, but, in this case, entirely wordless. The work gives the impression of beginning at dawn and ending at dusk, framing the ascent and descent of a mountain, Andrew Burn in his excellent booklet essay, states this was both Delius's amanuensis Eric Fenby's and Beecham's respective perceptions of the piece's structure. Andrew Davis and his forces have the integrity of the work well controlled, avoiding a series of disconnected episodes--the journey is always clear. Olivia Robinson and Christopher Bowen are excellently balanced in the spacious vista and the chorus is clear and defined.

Delius’s Appalachia, part 4

The outdoors feeling of all of the music here is very successfully captured by a spacious yet well-focused recording made in an old-favorite venue. In SACD format the sound is spectacular, the stereo track revealing greater focus and resolution over the CD layer. This is an exquisite release blessed by the wonderfully rapt playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra producing glitteringly polychromatic results under one its favorite conductors, Andrew Davis. If only this was the first in a Delius series from these forces.

classical source
Review online at


From Boosey &

On Appalachia

A musical summation of the composer's experiences in Florida, Appalachia (the old native American name for North America), is a masterly set of variations on an old negro song that comprehensively captures the natural tropical splendpr of the deep south swamplands, while at the same time introducing an element of human melancholy and tragedy associated with the plight of the slave population. Also drawing on “Dixie” and “Yankee Doodle,” some variations are brief atmospheric tone-paintings while others are more extended scenic evocations suggesting local society waltzes, the grandeur of the Mississippi River, or the plaintive twilight song of slaves on the plantation.



Gunther Schuller on Delius's Appalachia

Excerpt from a 2004 interview with conductor Gunther Schuller prior to his conducting the University of Texas Austin Symphony in a program of works by Dvorak and Delius on November 20 and 22. Published online at the University of Texas Austin College of Fine Arts website.

The music of the British composer Frederick Delius was a great early influence for you, was it not?

It happened because Thomas Beecham started to record most of Delius's best orchestral and choral works starting in the late twenties, and by the mid-thirties he had put out something like four volumes of Delius, each of which comprised 12 78 RPM sides. That's a lot of music. Remember, in those days only three Dvorak symphonies had been recorded--there was actually more Delius on record than Dvorak. And when I started hearing this music at the age of 11 or 12, I just went crazy. There was something in me that craved that chromaticism. Even before that, as a choirboy, every time we'd rehearse a new work I'd look for the accidentals. If there were no sharps or flats I knew I wouldn't be interested. We called that "white music."

Delius didn't compose white music. And beyond that, it's wonderfully touching and melancholic. As a young man, that completely captivated me. Even today, I get goose pimples, something physical happens to me when I hear Delius's harmonies. I've never conducted Sea Drift, his great Walt Whitman setting, without finding myself totally in tears at the end. Delius has a kind of occult effect on some of us--I know it leaves others not only totally cold, but antagonistic. But for me Delius was one of the major influences in my musical life, one of the reasons I became a composer.

Appalachia…is one of the first Delius pieces in which he consolidates something like his mature style. Speaking of which, I would say that Delius and Scriabin are the two composers who were able to take Wagnerian harmony and create a purely personal idiom. In Tristan and Parsifal you find places that harmonically approach atonality. In the case of late Delius and late Scriabin, you don't find that. Rather, you find something more like polytonality. They invested Wagner's chords--which they often used in the second and third inversion--with a totally new effect. They made those harmonies float.


Delius' Appalachia In the Movies

Appalachia was most effectively adapted for use in the 1946 film The Yearling, set in Florida with a score by Herbert Stothart utilizing themes by Frederick Delius over the opening credits.

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