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Observations placeholder

Delius - Cynara



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Delius - "Cynara"

This quote accompanies the video above

n 1891, at the age of twenty-four, the English poet Ernest Christopher Dowson fell in love with an eleven-year-old girl named Adelaide "Missie" Foltinowicz, the daughter of a Polish restaurant owner in London's Soho where she worked as a waitress. Dowson relentlessly pursued Adelaide and even proposed to her, but in 1897 she married a tailor who lodged above her father's premises. Dowson was devastated and, it seems, never recovered from his loss. It is reputed that the young Adelaide was the subject of one of Dowson's best-known poems, "Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae". (The days when Cynara was queen will not return for me); a title drawn from Catullus.

The composer Frederick Delius had originally intended to include Cynara in Songs of Sunset; his 1908 setting of a collection of Dowson's poems. However, he realized that the connotations of this particular poem were not really in keeping with the other poems that he had chosen for his song cycle. Consequently, he set it aside, Twenty-four years later, Eric Fenby, who was, by then, Delius' amanuensis, found the truncated work in a stash of sketches. It was complete, albeit with some vague instrumental indications in the woodwind and brass, up to the words 'But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire'. Fenby suggested to the blind, paralyzed composer that he completed the work by dictation..

Whilst the lilting lyricism of Dowson's poetry is not in need of any music to enhance its mood, the tragic sense of loss inherent in the words reflects a similar theme that continually emerges in Delius's vocal music. Not only is Delius's music perfectly in tune with Dowson'a sentiments and emotions, but he also often spoke of 'the one great love of his life that came to nothing'. It has been suggested that Paris was the focus of Delius's encounter with his own Cynara during his bohemian years in the French capital. Despite the fact this 'one great love of his life' is more likely to have been the young Negress with whom he'd previously had an affair in Florida, considering Delius's associations with the city, Paris would seem to be a fitting location for the work. In this video I have also attempted to incorporate imagery that underscores the melancholic atmosphere of both the words and the music.

The work is scored for triple woodwind, (including cor anglais, bass clarinet and contra bassoon), three trumpets, four horns, three trombones and tuba, xylophone, triangle, cymbals, timpani, harp and strings. Yet the large orchestra is used in a most economical, subtle and colourful manner. Particularly noticeable is Delius's use of muted trombones and tuba in the concluding passages, and especially on the second inversion E minor chord at the final citation of the word 'Cynara'. Notice also how the rising triplet figure played on the bassoons and bass clarinet in the introduction is transformed to a ghostly low flute at the first mention of the word 'shadow'.

Baritone solo -: John Shirley-Quirk
Conductor: - Charles Groves.
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

The source of the experience


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