A Song of Summer – Introduction

A Song of Summer was mostly composed around 1918 though was not published at that time. Delius later composed a new introduction for the piece with the help of his amanuensis Eric Fenby, and published it in its complete form in 1931, making it one of his last published works. It is this introduction which I have chosen to focus this analysis on. What I find most interesting in this 15 bar sequence is Delius’ use of reoccurring motifs and his harmonic approach, making use of chromatic as well as parallel harmony. These opening bars also show Delius’ depth of knowledge in instrumentation and orchestration, using the strings as a canvas for solo woodwind instruments to play on.

As Delius’ music is so dense and full of interesting ideas, I have chosen to analyse only the first part of the introduction, which I have condensed into a piano reduction for ease of reading.

Piano reduction

The music stays in the unusual time signature of 7/4 throughout and is marked as Lento molto. Delius begins with a long sustained D major triad in the strings, under which the first motif (motif A) is introduced in the cellos and basses.

motif one

As with all of the other motifs used in this introduction, this melodic idea is heard again countless times during the rest of the piece. What makes this brooding phrase particularly interesting is Delius’ choice of notes and their harmonic implications. The phrase begins on the #11 of the D major triad and ends on it’s 7th, suggesting a D7 harmony. The G# can be seen as an appogiatura, which actually sounds much less dissonant in context, partly because of the wide gap in range between the high sustained chord and the cellos and basses below.

After a brief F#7sus4 chord, we are then introduced to the second motif (motif B) played by a solo flute.

motif two

Once again, a G# is played, implying a serene D(#11) chord hinting at the Lydian mode. This is the first phrase heard in the introduction which departs from the heavy, sustained sound of the strings up to this point. The use of semi-quavers make this motif slightly more lively than the others, though the register of the phrase maintains the distant, spacious sound of the previous 4 bars.

The harmony here moves in parallel motion, gradually becoming richer and more complex.

harmony one

The simple D major triad descends to a C/Bb chord followed by an interesting chord which I can most closely describe as Cm7(no5)/F#. This chord would be fairly conventional were the F# enharmonically altered to be spelled as Gb, which would make the chord a much more simple Ebm6 in first inversion. I have absolutely no idea why Delius has spelled the chord in this way, though he seems to do this fairly regularly, so there must be a reason for it. Any ideas would be very welcome.

Clearly we have left the key of D major by this point. Delius seems to be using these chords more as modal sounds rather than combining them to make a harmonic progression which modulates in any conventional way. The general descending pattern of the voicings provide a cohesiveness which could be compromised by the lack of tonal relationships.

The flute melody in bar 5 (motif B), is then answered with a short triplet figure played by the French Horns. This is the third and final motif (motif C) that Delius uses in the introduction.

motif three

This phrase is characterised by quaver triplet which begins it, the only instance in which triplets are used in the 15 bar passage. The phrase seems to be used exclusively as an answer to motif B and is only heard once more, two bars later.

Following on from the introduction of each motif, Delius then continues for another two bars using motifs B and C in modulated versions.

two bars of modulations

A version of motif B is played by a solo Oboe, though this time it has modulated to A Lydian, down a perfect fourth from its first appearance. This is followed, unsurprisingly, by the French Horns answering the phrase again with motif C, also down a perfect fourth. Underneath this the strings continue to play long sustained chords. We begin with an A major triad (again down a perfect fourth from bar 5), though this time the chord is played over its 7th; G natural, so a slight variation has occurred. This chord then moves in parallel motion to the exact same chord a tone below; G/F, before finally resolving at Gm7b5 in second inversion. Put simply, these two bars are an exact repetition of bars 5-6, though this time a perfect fourth lower and with a slight variation on the first chord.

Following on from this, the strings again take the foreground for a few bars. In the first two bars of this we hear some very typical Delian harmony.

strings harmony

The first of these chords is an F French augmented sixth chord (a full explanation of this chord can be found in my analysis of Delius’ first variation on Brigg Fair here). The bass then moves chromatically to a Bb major seventh chord, briefly becoming a Bb diminished seventh, and finally landing on a D minor seventh in second inversion. Delius seems to have used all his favourite techniques in this 2 bar passage; the use of the French augmented sixth chord, chromatic harmony, chromatic inner parts, and smooth voice leading can all be found in countless other Delius works.

Motif A now makes its first appearance since the opening bars of the introduction.

second appearance of first motif

Harmonically these 3 bars are very interesting. The first chord the strings play is an F6 in second inversion (another of Delius’ favourites). Underneath this however, motif A is played, beginning with an A#, probably the most dissonant note that can be sounded alongside the F6 chord. Even if we view this A# as an appogiatura landing on the B natural which follows, B natural is still very much outside of the accepted consonances which accompany the harmony. In bar 12 a similar clash is caused between the basses and the chords above them. This time a Bb major seventh chord in first inversion is sounded and again motif A clashes with it with its inclusion of a B natural.

These kind of clashes appear fairly often in Delius’ music, though very seldom do they sound anything like as dissonant as they appear on paper. How he manages to do this is one of the things that I find most interesting about his music, and it’s a testament to his musicality that he managed to hear these ideas in his head, having by this point lost his sight and been confined to a wheelchair, and was able to dictate them to his amanuensis Eric Fenby without any trial and error at the piano.

In the last two bars of the introduction Delius returns to the texture of a few bars before, a solo flute repeating the B motif with sustained chords in the strings beneath it.

last 2 bars

The music lightens here as we move away from the intense A motif in the basses and cellos, back to the elegant B motif. A D major sixth chord in played in the strings, becoming a minor chord in the last three beats of the bar, over which the B motif is heard in it’s original key.

The Bassoons then make their first appearance in the final bar of the introduction, playing a version of the B motif modulated to B minor, under which a G#m7(b5) chord is heard, the root note of which then chromatically descends, eventually leaving a G French augmented sixth chord, poised to resolve to D major when the next section begins.

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