This was one of my earliest discoveries of Delius in particular, and English music in general. I remember buying the old Decca Eclipse (ECS 634) version of this piece played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Anthony Collins. This record was released in 1972 was a ‘re-mastering’ of original recordings made in 1953. It included a splendid evocation of Paris, The Song of a Great City and the more intimate Summer Night on the River. This recording of In a Summer Garden has remained my favourite version of this work for over forty years. Fortunately it has been released on CD and download.
Just the other day I found out something I did not know about this work: the composer associated two quotations with the piece. The first is inscribed on the score and is two beautiful lines from Sonnet LIX from The House of Life by the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1822):
‘All are my blooms: and all sweet blooms of love
To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang’.
This sonnet, ‘Love’s Last Gift’ was set by Ralph Vaughan Williams as part of his song cycle The House of Life.
John Masefield commenting on this sonnet (LIX) has suggested that it is a ‘proud utterance.’ Love tells the poet that all ‘growth and flower and fruit are Love’s very own, and that all these things had been given in Spring and Summer.’ However there was a catch, all these things end with Autumn, which hints at a worse time to come. The sonnet concludes by a defiant act from the poet –there is a final gift, a bright leaf of laurel, over which no winter has power.’
The second inscription was printed on an early programme for the work:-
‘Roses, lilies, and a thousand scented flowers. Bright butterflies, flitting from petal to petal. Beneath the shade of ancient trees, a quiet river with water lilies. In a boat, almost hidden, two people. A thrush is singing in the distance.’ This is unattributed to any writer and may well have been the creation of the composer.
In a Summer Garden is dedicated to the composer’s wife, Jelka Rosen.
I have always regarded this work as an impressionist piece of music: using the musical equivalent of the technique Pointillism. Yet, maybe it is less of a nature study than a love poem.
Peter Warlock has written about In a Summer Garden:-
‘The title might mislead those who look for objective impressionism in Delius' music. The summer garden is no more than the background, the setting of his mood; one feels indeed that this work has a more intimate and personal programme than most of its kind. Yet, to the external eye, it appears to be built up of thematic scrappets that might well have been suggested by whispers of wind and the colloquy of birds. Certain passages suggest a kind of musical pointillism as though the luminous effect of the whole were attained by a thousand little points of light and colour’.