"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
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.
This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela