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"Mr. Delius Discourses on His Music to 'Hassan'"

A report from Marion Scott

Christian Science Monitor Saturday, October 27, 1923

Special Item from Monitor Bureau London, Oct. 15

Flecker's drama "Hassan", with incidental music by Frederick Delius, is the most talked of production in London at the moment. Undoubtedly here is a great play by a man of genius, around which another genius has woven music that is the sensitive, sincere reaction of one poet to another.

Very soon after the premiere the writer had the privilege of a talk with Mr. and Mrs. Delius on his music. The writer was received by Mrs. Delius. The questions that followed may be seen from her replies.

"When did my husband compose the music to "Hassan"? It was about three years ago in 1920. And, no, he didn't know Flecker at all, or any of his work; the first thing that happened was that he had a letter from Mr. Basil Dean asking him if we would compose the music for this play. But my husband does not like writing for plays, and he refused.

"Then Mr. Dean himself came over France, brought "Hassan" with him and insisted on reading it to my husband. Mr. Dean asked him again if he would do the music. My husband was so impressed with the drama that this time he consented, and began work upon it almost at once. It took such possession of his thoughts that in a few months he had completed it. He wrote it straight off as he felt it, without any consultations with Mr. Dean or the theater people. Then delays occurred, and everything had to wait three years before the play could be produced.

"Yes, "Hassan is a wonderful drama, isn't it, and Mr. Dean has produced it wonderfully. He has thought of everything. The music? Yes, my husband put his very best into it. Yet at the performances the audiences make so much noise that hardly anyone can hear it properly. It is strange in England how they allow tea and chocolate to be sold in the theater while the music is going on, and then the people talk! It is terrible: - I think that the English theater public has no reverence for art."

Reticent and Modest

At this moment Mr. Delius entered the room, quiet, reticent, modest. However, after a few general remarks, he was induced to discuss his 'Hassan' music. "Yes, it was practically all done in those few months. Only the ballet was enlarged later. When Mr. Dean saw the first draft he thought it was too short, so I added to it".

"When composing the music did you wish to emphasize any particular aspects of the drama?" Mr. Delius replied very simply: "No, I had no special views. I just followed the drama and wrote music when it was necessary. The ballet is the only thing that really has nothing to do with the drama - that was added later, as I told you, because they thought it would be effective. From the theatrical point of view." "People are already beginning to express a hope that they may hear your "Hassan" music in a concert room version. Have you any wishes yourself?" Mr. Delius dismissed the question like one whom it did not concern. "No - no views at all. At present my music is so bound up with the drama for me that I cannot think of it apart from it." He seemed to muse a moment perhaps recalling the poet's work surrounded and completed by the atmosphere of his own melodies. Then he again roused to speech.

Curtain Calls Deplored

"But how can one make an atmosphere when the people talk all through the music. It is true, the audiences at the 'Old Vic' and the Queen's Hall Promenade concerts show that there are some people in London who appreciate art, but they are not the regular theater audiences. And then that terrible English custom of allowing actors to come before the curtain and take calls at the end of each act. It destroys any atmosphere which the musician has succeeded in building up. (Speaking with energy). Now there is something I particularly want you to say - a full artistic impression is impossible under the conditions that prevail in the London theaters."

That closed the interview, but readers of The Christian Science Monitor who have not had a chance of hearing "Hassan" for themselves may like a brief description of this much-talked-of and talked-over music.

In all theater bands the number of players is necessarily small. Delius, famous in the past for his masterly management of great masses of instruments, here shows an equal mastery of his treatment of few. He has taken the original course of scoring "Hassan" for an orchestra of 26 solo instruments. This, besides the usual strings, wood-winds, and horns, etc., includes such less usual instruments as the cor anglais, tuba, xylophone and harp. The result is rich, varied and original - the more so that he introduces voices freely, with or without words, not only for solo purposes and in chorus, but sometimes as parts of the orchestral texture.

Music and Play Well Related

This method is familiar to people acquainted with his concert works. Here it gains additional appositeness from the singers having their raison d'être in the scheme of the play. Throughout, the relation of the music to the drama is resourceful and sincere. Sometimes it stands by itself, as in the preludes and interludes; at others it forms a background to the spoken words as when Ishak extemporizes his exquisite poem on the dawn, or again it rises clear into song. Mainly lyrical during the earliest part of the drama, the music moves in soft tone colors and exotic melodies. The little prelude preceding the night scene in the street is perfect of its kind, though scarcely more than 6 bars long.

As the drama proceeds, the music gathers force, the colors heighten, the chorus and ballet are introduced, and the voices produce wild, elementally indefinite waves of sound. Though not realistically Eastern nor dominantly rhythmic, all is poetic and picturesque. Toward the close of the drama come two great opportunities for the composer - the march and the final scene. Opinions probably will be divided as to whether Delius has found inevitable music for the march, but in the closing scene (which the poet evidently intended as a choral climax) Delius has achieved a splendid finale. Fully experienced as a composer of opera and concert room music, he has known exactly how to draw together, harmonize and tranquillize all the actions, passions and tragedy of the drama, and has ended the whole upon the emotion of hope.

M.M.S.

 

This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins

 

 


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