Music Media Review Print



Delius as Eric Fenby Knew Him

November 10, 2001 - Raleigh, NC:


Delius - Song of Summer, produced & directed by Ken Russell (1968). British Film Institute BFIVD518 (DVD, 72:00, b/w). AVAILABLE IN PAL FORMAT ONLY. £19.99. (Ordering information included below.)

The music of Frederick Delius (who somewhat unsuccessfully grew oranges for a time in Florida) has become far more important and influential than its composer could ever have imagined when, living in France after a checkered career and life, he railed against "English" music and English programming conceits. His story is widely known; but for the championship of Thomas Beecham, he might never have achieved world-wide fame. And but for Eric Fenby, Delius, blinded and paralyzed by syphilis, would have been silenced long before he was.

Well, maybe-or maybe not. As Roger Beardsley notes in a recent Pearl CD release, Constant Lambert's recordings of Delius's music probably sold better than Beecham's at the time they first appeared, and perhaps some young musician other than Fenby would have come to the older man's aid. We'll never know, but what we do know is that Fenby's book, Delius as I Knew Him, is, with Beecham's great biography, a tremendous resource for those with more than a passing interest in the composer, and now even those who don't do much reading may enjoy the story of Fenby's work as Delius's amanuensis, thanks to the recent reissue on DVD of a magnificent 1968 television film on Delius made by Ken Russell. The DVD has been published by the British Film Institute and is available direct from London via the BFI's website; for details, see http://www.bfi.org.uk/bookvid/.

Because Fenby co-authored the screenplay, and because the screenplay is based on his earlier book, a skeptic might guess that the tale has been sweetened, but this is a fairly grim film that seems to depict the often quite vicious personalities of Frederick and Jelka, his wife. It succeeds in bringing to life a period of Delius's career that has often been glossed over. The cast of Delius - Song of Summer includes Max Adrian as Delius, Maureen Pryor as Jelka, and Christopher Gable (in what was the first of his many TV and screen roles) as Fenby. The results are stunning in every respect.

It is therefore troubling to report that the BFI has issued this film in PAL format only, which means that it will not play on most US DVD machines, which are set to NTSC standards. Readers with "universal" players will however encounter no trouble viewing the 72-minute black-&-white film, which we enthusiastically recommend.

Next up in this outstanding series of art films dealing with important musical figures is a cinematic treatment of Sir Edward Elgar. Stay tuned.