Sunday, 17 May 2015

A Pen Sketch of Frederic Delisu at Grez-Sur-Loing, Part 1

I recently found Margaret ‘Peggy’ Black’s [1] article about ‘Delius at Home’ [2] in a bound volume of Music of all Nations [p.118-119] which I purchased in the second-hand bookshop. This series, which was edited by ‘Sir Henry Wood’ [3] was published during the nineteen twenties and thirties, however, my copy is not dated.  I located an advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post (3 November 1927) for ‘Part One’ of this fortnightly publication. I understand that there were 30 parts issued. So the final edition was probably in the first or second week of December 1928. So a good surmise would be that Margaret Black’s article appeared around mid-November of that year.
Clare Delius in her book [4] has stated that her daughter, Margaret, first visited Grez-sur-Loing in in 1927. In 1920 when Claire was taking Margaret to her first boarding school, Delius pressed an invitation on her to visit Grez: ‘Seven years were to intervene before she could accept this invitation.’
This article was re-printed in the Delius Society Journal, April 1984. However, I have retained the author’s orthography and paragraph headings, as well as providing some notes.

Notes on Introduction:
[1] Margaret Black was Delius’ niece. Her mother, Clare Black, née Clara Edith Delius (1866-1954) was the composer’s favourite sister. In 1889 she married J.W.A. Black. Margaret lived until October 1978.
[2] Delius moved to Grez in 1897 and died there in 1934.
[3] It is highly likely that Wood’s name was simply an advertising ploy and that the considerable amount of work the publication entailed was done by a team of editors. Each fortnightly part included piano works, songs and essays.
[4] Delius, Clare, Frederic Delius: Memories of my Brother (London: Ivor Nicholson & Watson, 1933)

Delius at Home by Margaret Black
True enough is the saying, “The more brilliant the genius, the more modest the man." It is this modesty, this dislike of publicity which has made Delius utterly ignore the articles published frequently in the papers, under such headings as “Genius living in obscurity and straitened circumstances”, “Famous composer neglected and unacknowledged in a foreign country”.
All this is very romantic, and satisfies the general idea of the public in connection with the arts, and that is, that all great poets, composers and artists labour on under the most adverse conditions until their death, when their brilliance is acknowledged by a world stricken with remorse.
Their poems are read and quoted in all the papers, their operas move audiences to ecstasies and tears, and their pictures draw endless crowds dumb with admiration, or loquacious in their praise, because death always opens the floodgates of belated and exaggerated admiration.

Genius and Publicity
It is this very publicity that genius shuns, and which my uncle, contrary to the general rule, encountered early in his career, and which pleases him as little today as it did then. By my expression, “His very publicity” I do not mean the interest of the public in their works, but rather the curiosity of the public in their lives. What they say and think, and eat and drink, where and how they live, and all their little idiosyncrasies are magnified and trimmed to sound interesting, their most commonplace saying pushed and twisted into a "story."
Life without privacy is a nightmare. These “stories,” if not actually untrue, are so trimmed with mental lace as to be almost unrecognisable from the original incident.
Delius refuses to discuss himself through the medium of the press, in any way at all to be drawn into any “I do's,” or “I dont's,” whatsoever; he dislikes it intensely, so that these “stories” continue to circulate, and people form a vague idea he is living in straitened circumstances and so ill that he cannot leave his house.
All this is very disheartening to those who are doing all they can for his welfare. And as I spent some five or six weeks with him last autumn, [1] it is my intention to give a short and clear account of his life as he lives it now.

The Beautiful Home
He lives in an old French château, with three rambling staircases, many old-world rooms, which he bought from the Marquis de Cazeau, some twenty years ago. It has one of the most beautiful gardens that I have ever seen, running down to a wide river, on which he used often to row in his white boat, and it was here that he wrote some of his most lovely compositions, such as “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” which we have heard so often lately, especially on the wireless.
It will be noticed that so many of his works take their theme or their name from nature, sunset, clouds, rain, sunshine, trees in the wind, the soft, low notes of a running river, all these can be depicted, and one is left with an idea as clear as though one had seen it in a picture, or read it in a poem, and no wonder, with the inspiration of his garden, which I am now going to describe.

The Garden
This is entered through a wide, covered portico, on the right side of which is the hall door, so that one drives in, and enters the hall dry shod. This portico leads to a paved courtyard, with the stables and coach house on one side and an “English garden” on the other. Peaches, plums, pears, apples, tomatoes, and figs, etc., grow in this old French garden, surrounded by the grey and lichened walls, which form a picturesque background for a riot of glowing flowers.
When I shut my eyes I can see it now- late roses, great, sweet overblown things, flaming dahlias, and bushes of mauve Michaelmas daisies, over it all the hot September sunshine, and the soft hum of the bees, scuttling from flower to flower.
Rambling along the edges of the flower beds and paths are tomatoes, growing in such profusion as to fill the store-rooms until long after Christmas.

The River
In the middle of the garden is a summer house, below that lies the lily pond and rustic bridge, then the orchard. Shady trees and cool, green lawns lead down to the river, which is very wide and placid, fringed on either bank by trees, growing in grass meadows. Quaint grey paths wind all about the garden of this great composer, whose deep love of nature speaks so plainly in all his works.
From underneath the vaulted cellar flows a spring of pure water, which remains ice cold through the hottest summer, and runs through the garden to the river, this is called “La Source."
Frowning over the garden is an old tower, called “la Tour de la Reine Blanche,” all that remains of an old castle, in which was imprisoned long years ago “la Reine Blanche,” for an “affaire de coeur,” which banished her from the Court to the seclusion of the country, where she could ponder over her indiscreet romance. 
[To be continued]

[1] Most likely the autumn of 1927. 

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