Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Pen Sketch of Frederic Delius at Grez-Sur-Loing, Part 2

Margaret Black's Delius at Home, Part 2

The House
Now we will enter Delius' home, through the big hall, up a wide, winding staircase made of oak, to his bedroom, which was once the salon, and has the double folding doors of the period of powder and patches, still painted gold and blue, as the fashion was of that day. These doors were very wide and high to allow the enormous hooped skirts and high head dresses of the belles of Versailles to pass through when they came to call on the marquis, and they are to be seen in many old châteaux all over France.
To the right is a door leading to a bath-room and dressing-room. To the left a smaller door and a passage, on one side two bedrooms, one being occupied by his valet, on the other side windows overlooking the courtyard and gardens, and at the end of this passage is Delius' music room. 

The Music Room
This is a large, sunny room, with the same parquet floor (all the rooms have these, except one or two in the right wing of the château used as studios). 
In here are two pianos, music stands, shelves full of books and manuscripts, a Persian rug and some tapestries. On the walls hang some paintings by his wife, whose first picture was exhibited in the Paris Salon when she was only seventeen. There are three studios filled with interesting studies, most of which have been “hung,” or whatever the equivalent is in France, for the coveted little “number disc” all artists hope to see one day on their pictures hangs on them.
My aunt speaks five languages perfectly, and is therefore of the greatest help to my uncle, for whom during his temporary illness she undertakes his entire correspondence, by no means a small matter.
Leading out of the music room are two or three other rooms, forming the short left wing of the house, which is built in the shape of an “L,” with an upright piece on the end of the toe. These unknown rooms I always meant to explore, but never did. Up above are store rooms, filled with apples and tomatoes arranged by Madame Gréppié like soldiers on parade. She is a marvellous French cook, and gives as much thought and care to the cooking of a potato as the French Government did to the stabilisation of the franc! Cooking she regards as a career.

Near these store rooms is a lovely studio, very sunny, with an enormous picture on an easel of a girl with long golden hair; this model used to come from Paris to sit for my aunt, who at that time especially was working very seriously with her painting. From this studio you can walk on to a flat roof, from which there is a wonderful view of the countryside.
At the foot of the staircase in this wing is another group of rooms, two or three I think, which are always kept ready for friends of my uncle; one I believe is a famous pianist, another a noted composer [2]. While I was there a very well known 'cellist [3] came for a flying visit prior to an important concert he was giving in Berlin. In the afternoon sometimes he would play for us. Over in the main wing, at the top of the main staircase, was my room, with two long French windows, and when I looked out I could see the lovely old Church of Grez. It was here I think my uncle and aunt were married [4]. It has an old turreted tower with a clock in it, and this forms a medieval gateway into the village of Grez; it is a few minutes’ walk from the château.  
Leading from my room was a sort of ante-room, with wardrobes and linen closets, etc., a small passage and then an enormous studio and store room, for lavender and rose leaves, for pot-pourri and various other things, leading out of this another huge room used as a studio. I can only give some idea of the size of these two rooms especially by likening them to those we use in England for gymnasiums and concerts.
My uncle spends most of his time in the garden, where his valet and my aunt read to him in turn, his eyesight being rather bad. Here one can often meet well-known people in the literary and musical world, whose visits and music give him great pleasure.

Delius Himself
Perhaps I ought to give some description of Delius himself.
He is tall and slender with a very thin face and aquiline features, which gives him the appearance of a Jesuit priest. A bust showing this resemblance very strongly was exhibited recently in England. But undoubtedly his most striking feature is his hands, very white in spite of his long hours out of doors, with long, tapering fingers and filbert nails, slender and fragile looking, and yet he has climbed all over the mountains in Norway, where he had a house, and as a boy I have been told he was a great cricketer.
I heard a very funny story about him when he was in Norway. A friend of his who had just arrived at an inn heard the landlord talking. “The tall young Englishman has again arrived. He climbs every mountain, and he always runs. Never have I seen such energy.” So he knew that my uncle was somewhere in the neighbourhood!

The Village of Grez
I could write pages about the lovely little village of Grez, beloved by the great Robert Louis Stevenson, [5] surrounded by the forest of Fontainebleau. The horrors it endured in the Great War, when the cobbled streets were packed with refugees, and my uncle and aunt had to dig all their wine in a large hole in the lawn and leave the château, spending two days and two nights in a cattle truck. 
The roads were impossible, being a solid jam of peasants pushing their little carts, packed with their family and household goods. A few kilometres away is the town of Fontainebleau; the road leading to it was made by the great Napoleon, who lived at the wonderful château there, which is almost more beautiful than Versailles.
So I will conclude with the hope that lovers of his music will realise that he is not living “neglected and abandoned in ugly surroundings,” but amid great beauty and with all that care and attention can give him.

[2] Probably Percy Grainger (1882-1961) and Henry Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950) who both visited Grez-sur-Loing at ‘the end of summer’ 1927. (Carley, Lionel, Delius: A Life in Letters, Volume 2, Gower Publishing, 1988)
[3] I cannot identify who the cellist was. The conductor and composer Oscar Fried (1871-1941) did visit around this time. He was en-route to Russia for a musical engagement.
[4] Eric Fenby (Delius Society Journal October 1984) pointed out that Delius was in fact married at Grez-sur-Loing town hall and not at the church.
[5] Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. In 1875 Stevenson journeyed to Paris where he discovered the Forest of Fontainebleau. He settled in the small town of Barbizon that same year, at the Siron Inn (now the Bas Breau Hotel). In the following year, Stevenson journeyed on foot from a second visit to Barbizon to Grez-sur-Loing to meet his cousin Bob, who was staying at the Chevillon Hotel (still extant). In Grez Stevenson met Fanny Osbourne (1840-1914), who would later become his wife. 

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