Music and Vision homepage



TREVOR HOLD has dragged
from oblivion some music
you will not know.

7. Delius's
Evening Canticles


It is not known when Delius wrote his Evening Canticles or the circumstance of their composition. Some scholars suggest that they date from his student days in Leipzig when he was overcome by intense nostalgia for evensong at his local parish church in Bradford. Others say that they are a late work - indeed his very last - written in a fit of intense remorse after he'd been scoffing at Eric Fenby's religious allegiances. His wife, Jelka, who acted as his amanuensis, had great difficulty stifling rumours of a deathbed conversion to the C of E.

Whatever the facts, the music is difficult to place in Delius's oeuvre, being his only example of liturgical music. Yet in a strange way the canticles are entirely typical of their composer. The Magnificat opens with a long organ prelude, starting pianissimo and building to a magnificent climax - 'much like a sunrise', as one critic has said. The baritone soloist then enters with the opening words, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord', a passage which could come straight out of Sea Drift. Indeed it has, but none the worst for that.

Delius was clearly moved by the text, as is demonstrated by the religious fervour he gives to the phrase, 'Call me blessed' and the forthright vigour of his fugal writing at the words, 'He hath put down'. At the phrase, 'And the rich he hath sent empty away', the music itself drifts away to nothing, with the semichorus echoing the final word, 'Away…away…away…' into the distance. With the Nunc Dimittis we are in more familiar Delius territory, though many will feel that the 'cuckoo' motive which dominates the movement is somewhat out-of-place. The alto soloist sings the text over a gently undulating accompaniment from the chorus, singing wordlessly to 'Ah'. As she finishes, the chorus gradually takes over, swelling in and out in an sequence of exquisite chromatic chords until we are brought back to earth again with the Gloria. The final 8-part 'Amen' is one of the highpoints of English choral-writing, worthy to stand beside Byrd, Purcell and Parry.


Copyright © 6 January 2000, Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK


 << Music & Vision homepage            Bruckner's 'Cabaret Songs' >>