Category: Mature Works (1907 – 1924)

North Country Sketches, No.2 – Winter Landscape

Delius’ set of 4 North Country Sketches were written between 1913-14, when Delius was at the height of his writing career. By this time he had developed what has come to be known as the ‘Delius sound’ and was writing prolifically.

In this analysis I will be looking at the second of these four pieces, with particular emphasis on how Delius harmonises the same 4 bar melody in various ways. I will be using the piano reduction by Peter Warlock (which can be viewed in full here) for ease of reading.

A key signature is not used in the piece, presumably because the music never settles in a key long enough for it to be heard as the tonic. It is written in a slow 4/4 (though there are some 3/2 bars later in the piece). The piece begins very quietly (as most of Delius’ compositions from this time do), with a tonally ambiguous F diminished chord. This chord is arpeggiated by the English Horn, Oboe and Harp, while the first Violins hold a sustained G natural above it. Already an atmosphere has been created and the tempo established.

Intro Bar

This Harp and Oboe ostinato is present for almost the whole piece, later joined by the Flutes and adapting itself to the changing harmony. This first bar then repeats verbatim while the main motif of the piece is introduced underneath it. I’ll refer to this as motif A for the remainder of the analysis. It is heard another 9 times throughout the piece in full and countless other times in fragments. It is first played by the Cellos in bar 2:

Cello motif

I have bracketed the last two notes as they do not form part of the motif when it reoccurs later in the piece. Harmonically these opening bars are very hard to pin down to a specific key. Motif A seems to suggest C harmonic minor, and I’ll refer to it as being in this key for the rest of this analysis. However, the Bbs which form part of the four note ostinato played by the Harp and the Oboes would seem to contradict this.

Harp and Oboe ostinato

I think the answer to this is that the Bbs, being in a register over an octave above the Cello melody, are not really heard as a harmonic element. As well as this, a Bb would form part of the C natural minor scale, which is obviously closely related to the C harmonic minor tonality of the lower parts.

After this first introduction of motif A we hear it straight away again, this time in the Violas. This melody is played a perfect 5th up from before, but it is not an exact modulation.

motif A 2

This is basically a major key version of the first version of motif A. Despite these changes in pitch, the rhythm and contour of the motif is clearly recognisable from before. This is the first of many variations of motif A that are heard in the piece.

Underneath this we hear some very typical Delian harmony, using French augmented sixth chords (a full explanation of which can be found here) and chromatic harmony (full explanation here).

Harmony under 2nd motif A

Throughout this piece Delius uses a combination of chromatic, modal and diatonic harmony, at times using distantly related chords and treating them more as sounds in themselves rather than diatonic elements, whilst in other instances using fairly conventional tonal relationships.

Again, no linking material is used and we move straight on to the next variation on motif A. As before, the instrumentation has changed and we hear the melody in the brass for the first time.

Motif A 3

Once again, the pitches of motif A have been slightly adapted to fit the harmony. This time the melody is heard in C major, but with the last note chromatically altered to an Eb rather than the expected D. Despite this, the harmony here actually suggests a key of G major. Delius begins with one of his favourite sounds; a D dominant ninth chord. This then moves to an Am7/G (another chord which occurs often in Delius’ music) in bar 10. So far everything has remained with the key of G major (the Eb in bar 9 is a chromatic passing note). A C minor 6th chord is then heard at bar 11. This can be seen as a minor plagal chord (chord IV being minor in a minor key), meaning that it would still resolve to G as its tonic. We then stay in G major until bar 13 which is another dominant ninth chord, this time leaving the key of G major and acting as a secondary dominant chord to the E minor seventh which is heard in the following bar.

The last two bars of this section (bars 12-13) are the first appearance of linking material between the variations of motif A. They are not related to the main motif in any obvious way and act as a bridge between two versions of it. We then continue to the fourth version of motif A.

Motif A 4

The actual melody is slightly hard to read here, so I’ve written it out in isolation.

Isolated melody

This is actually an exact repetition of the second version of motif A, though this time in G major rather than Bb major. The harmony underneath this moves from a II-V progression in D major, down a tone to a II-V progression in C major (the V in D major also acting as a secondary dominant to the II in C major). This is a progression more associated with Jazz, especially with the extensions Delius uses here, adding 7ths, 9ths and 13ths to the basic triads.

Following these four variations on motif A, the music changes direction and becomes much more static harmonically. Very high sustained chords in the Violins come to the foreground over an E pedal note in the Cellos and Basses.

High string chords

The chords in the Violins here are all 6th and 7th chords and move between the keys of A major, G major and E major. These chords all move in parallel and are heard as blocks of moving harmony over the pedal note, rather than a harmonic progression. The highest notes here form a version of motif A, the rhythm unaltered from before, and the pitches still following a descending line, though only the first two bars of the original motif A are used. From beat 4 of bar 22 onwards we hear some additional material which is not derived from motif A. In the last two bars of this section the bass also descends to create a variation under the Violins, which repeat every phrase they play.

This texture does not last long however as Delius uses an abrupt modulation into D minor, with much the same texture as before to introduce more variations of motif A.

Motif A 5 and 6

The main variation that Delius has introduced to these to version of motif A is that they are now 3 bars long rather than 4. The first 3 bars are clearly within the key of D melodic minor, in the motif and in the harmony, and again this set of pitches has not been heard before in the piece, this time starting on the root of the minor key.

The following 3 bars are more ambiguous. The motif itself is in C major (as heard in bars 9-10), but the harmony seems to suggest a key of G minor until the Bb dominant ninth chord in bar 29. Again chromatic lines are used in the inner parts here.

In the next 6 bars the motif is shortened again, from 3 bars to 2. Delius takes just the first 2 bars of motif A and varies it harmonically, the same idea that was used in the Violins at bar 19.

Motif A 7 and 8

This is a more conventional sequence with the melody in bars 32-33 being an exact repetition of bars 30-31 a tone apart. Although the harmony also modulates by a tone from F major to G major, the chords themselves don’t follow this pattern, though the downward direction of the melody is mirrored in the chords beneath it. Delius then uses another abrupt modulation to a B dominant ninth chord.

This chord is then reduced to just its root and 5th in the Basses and Cellos, whilst the Violins play parallel 6th and 7th chords above it in much the same way as at bar 19, though now a perfect 5th higher.

High string chords 2

Again the same phrase is used to end this section as it was at bar 22. This 4 note idea is then used again in the next section which has departed completely from motif A.

linking material

After the F#m6 arpeggio in the Harp, we hear the same melody in the Oboes as was played by the strings at bars 39-40. This phrase has by this point almost become a secondary motif, though it features in the piece much less than motif A.

Finally, we return to the original texture, the Harp and Oboes playing the same figure they began the piece with.

oboe and harp thing

Underneath this, a satisfying symmetry rounds off the piece in the form of motif A for the final time (played by solo Cello and solo Bassoon), in C minor the key in which it first occurred at bar 2. The strings underneath this change the complexion of these final few bars though, by playing a Db7 chord under the melody. The G, Bb and D in the Oboe and Harp part actually extend this chord to an implied Db13(b9#11).

last few bars

The G which would normally end motif A in this key, this time resolves to an F (the 3rd of the Db7 chord) to finish the piece, albeit it in a fairly open way. Again there are some harmonic discrepancies here between the melody and the chords. The D in the Oboes would suggest a chord of Db7(b9), yet motif A begins with an Eb, suggesting Db9. Also, the C in motif A clashes with the B in the chords played underneath it. It is typical of Delius to ignore these inconsistencies in the harmony, and as with most of the clashes in Delius’ music, they are not heard as being particularly dissonant in context.

What really fascinates me about this piece is how much Delius has done with so little. Motif A consists of only 6 notes, yet he has managed to create a piece roughly 4 minutes long using only this short melody as a starting point. This is partly due to his use of orchestration, putting the motif in a different context and colour each time we hear it, but also due to his harmonic ideas. Not only does the motif modulate through various keys (and types of keys), but the harmony underneath it is never once repeated. These 52 bars are a masterclass in harmonic variation.

Brigg Fair – Second Variation

Following on from my analysis of Delius’ first variation on Brigg Fair (which can be found here), I have continued in the same way to analyse the 16 bars of music immediately succeeding it, which make up the second variation. As I included most of the background information to the original melody in my last post, I will move straight onto the analysis, but please do read that post before this one if you haven’t already as I’ll be referring to some harmonic principles explained within in.

The second variation is as follows:

Second Variation

As mentioned in my analysis of the first variation, virtually all of the alterations Delius makes from one variation to the next are harmonic. The one exception to this is the F# in bar 9 of this variation, which is played as an F in all of the others. This is almost imperceptible when listening to the music and is presumably only altered to accommodate for the C diminished chord which underlies it.

The use of chromatic harmony is the most immediately obvious device Delius uses to characterise this variation. In other words, the bass descends chromatically from one chord to the next. This occurs from between bars 2 and 13 of the 16 bar sequence.

Chromatic bass

From looking at this bass part in isolation, it becomes clear that Delius hasn’t rigidly stuck to the idea of moving down chromatically one chord at a time. The phrase is flowing and musical because of the acceptions to the rule. Apart from the changing harmonic rhythm, chords lasting from between two bars and one quaver long, the phrase is actually not quite chromatic. A D natural has been omitted between bars 7 and 8, as has a B natural between bars 9 and 10, and finally a G flat between bars 12 and 13. To the listener though, these discrepancies in the chromatic line are not really audible, especially as the line continues to descend by step, which is the overriding intention of the passage, whether actually chromatic or not.

Chromatic harmony was not new when Delius used it in Brigg Fair. Examples can be found in a multitude of styles ranging back over the history of music, such as in this passage by Schubert from 1825 (Piano Sonata in A minor, Op. 42, first movement):

Schubert example

Delius used this device in a very idiomatic and somewhat un-technical way however. As mentioned in my analysis of the first variation, Delius seems to have a particular attachment to the French augmented 6th chord. On top of this, slash chords such as the Bb7/F in bar 5 and the Gm7(b5)/Db in bar 8 seem to be particular favourites of his. As far as I can work out, Delius’ approach when using chromatic harmony seems to be reliant on two things; firstly, creating voice leading that is as smooth as possible, and secondly to include as many of the chords just mentioned which Delius puts particular emphasis on in his writing.

As well as the chromaticism of the bass part, two separate chromatic lines are also heard in the inner parts of this passage. First from bars 1-7:

chromatic line 1

Then, above that, following on from the same place in bar 7 to bar 10:

chromatic line 2

This use of descending chromaticism (Delius very rarely ascends chromatically) adds to the general sense of falling throughout this passage, an extension far beyond the way in which chromaticism was generally employed before Delius. This approach used by Delius and others was later taken up by other English composers such as York Bowen as can be seen in the following example (Prelude in G minor, op. 102. no. 16):

York Bowen Example

The influence of Delius is clear in York Bowen’s compositional approach. Not only does the bass descend chromatically but the inner parts follow along the same vein as Delius’, with almost countless instances of chromatic lines being used (I can count at least 5 in these three bars alone).

To try to further understand Delius’ approach I have made an attempt to reharmonize the well known Harold Arlen song ‘Over the Rainbow’ making use of Delius’ chromatic harmony concepts. What I have arrived at is probably closer to the York Bowen example with the harmonic rhythm being generally faster than Delius’, though most of the concepts are the same.

Over the Rainbow

Following on from the chromatic harmony used in Delius’ second variation of Brigg Fair, the bass then briefly ascends during bars 13 – 15 (almost chromatically), after which a more conventional interrupted cadence in G minor is used to end the passage, leaving us back in the key of the original Brigg Fair melody.

last few bars

Aside from the chromatic harmony used in this variation, there are also some interesting chords which warrant being looked into in isolation. The first of which is the G7sus4 chord used in bar 1 of the variation.

g sus chord

This chord tends to be more associated with a modal Jazz from around 1960 onwards. Sus chords have of course been used for hundreds of years right back to Baroque music, but a chord of this quality being used as a consonance without needing to be resolved was not heard often during Delius’ time.

The other particularly interesting chord is the Fm11 which occurs in bar 4.

so what chord

This chord is commonly known as a ‘So What’ chord because of its use in the tune of the same name by Miles Davis on his 1959 album ‘Kind of Blue’. What makes this chord particularly interesting is that it is build up of three perfect fourth intervals with a major third on top. This is known as quartal harmony and is generally associated with music much later than Delius. The only other example I can find of this chord before ‘So What’ is in a Poulenc piano piece from 1927, though I’m sure there are other examples dotted around. (Three Novelettes, FP 47, no 1. bars 27 – 29):

Poulenc Example

Incidentally, if anyone knows of any other examples of this chord being used, please let me know in the comments, as well as any other suggestions or corrections.

Brigg Fair – First Variation

Brigg Fair is an English folk song best known as a choral arrangement by Delius’ friend, Percy Grainger. The set of variations by Delius written on Brigg Fair were published in 1907 and are considered to be one of his first mature works, marking the beginning of his most productive period. I will be using a piano reduction throughout this analysis for ease of reading, but the full orchestral score for Delius’ variations on Brigg Fair can be found here.

Following a sparse, serene introduction, the main theme is introduced around 2 minutes into the piece. The 16 bar melody itself which Delius uses for his variations is in the G dorian mode and is notated in 3/8 time.

Brigg Fair Melody

In this analysis, I will only be looking at the first variation of the theme, though I intend on analysing the following three in the near future. Delius makes only very slight changes to the melody itself during the first four variations, the vast majority of the development being harmonic. Unlike a traditional set of variations, Delius doesn’t provide the listener with an unaltered version of the theme before embarking on variants of it. The first rendition of the theme is as follows:

First Variation

This passage can be clearly split into two halves; bars 1-7 are the only real reference to the original G dorian harmony of Brigg Fair, though even in this Delius includes a B natural as part of the G major chord in bar 6. In general though, these opening 7 bars are characterised by simple triadic harmony and a much slower harmonic rhythm than that which follows. This can perhaps be viewed as a very brief version of the original theme which is usually stated unaltered at the beginning of a set of variations.

The triadic approach Delius takes in this opening section is interrupted with a much more complex and dissonant chord of an A French augmented 6th in bar 8. The chord (along with all other types of augmented 6th chords) is generally considered to be an extended secondary dominant.

A French aug 6 chord

Put simply, in the key of C, D7 is the secondary dominant (or dominant of the dominant). The step to an augmented 6th chord occurs when A (the 5th of the D7 chord) is chromatically altered to an Ab. This creates a chromatic movement from Ab to G, as the chord following an augmented 6th is almost always a V or I/V chord. The augmented 6th in the name of the chord refers to the relationship between Ab and F#.

Explination of augmented sixth chords

This chord can also suggest a whole tone sound and has occasionally been used in this way since around 1900. The chord itself though has been in use since long before Delius’ time as can be seen in the following examples:

Beethoven Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 2, no. 1, first movement (bars 61 – 63)

Beethoven Fr 6 example

Chopin Mazurka no. 19, Op. 30, no. 2, (bars 17 – 28)

Chopin example

It has even been suggested by Walter Piston in his book ‘Harmony’ (1941) that the chord at bar 2 of the following example from Wagner’s famous opening to Tristan and Isolde is a French augmented sixth. The G# acting as an appoggiatura to the A natural which follows:

Wagner Example

Delius’ use of this chord is in stark contrast to all of these examples however as he treats the chord more as a V chord in itself, rather than a VI chord which tends to resolve to V or I/V. In this case the A French augmented 6th chord resolves directly to a D major chord, creating a V – I relationship.

French sixth to one

This could suggest that it isn’t a French augmented 6th at all, but rather an A7 with a flattened 5th, though the fact that he invariably spells this chord with augmented 6th interval would suggest otherwise. Either way, this chord seems to be a favourite of Delius’ and appears countless times throughout the Brigg Fair variations as well as in his other works.

Following this, a quick passing chord is used in bar 9 (beat 3) resolving to G major.

chromatic passing chord

As with a lot of Delius’ music, this chord is probably better seen as a chromatic passing chord reliant on voice leading than as a vertical tonal element. The Eb to D in the bass and the F major to G major chords on top create a contrary motion relationship resulting in smooth, though non-diatonic voice leading.

With the exception of the brief F/Eb passing chord just mentioned, the harmony here makes use of the cycle of 5ths. From bars 8 to 12, every chord moves up a fourth from the previous chord, so what Delius is doing here is in some ways very conventional, modulating temporarily to D major, G major, and finally chord II in Bb major, all via V – I relationships.

Cycle of fifths example

From here the music becomes more diatonic, whilst the harmonic rhythm remains at one or two chords per bar. The harmony continues to move in fourths, though now staying within Bb major (in bars 11-12) in the form of a ii7 – V7 – I progression. A simple iv – V7 – I progression in G minor then ends the passage (in bars 15-16), leaving us in the original G minor tonality of the theme.

bars 11 onwards

This first variation is typical of Delius’ complex harmonic style; quick harmonic rhythm, chromatic passing chords, use of French sixth chords, and a general favouring of voice leading over harmonic progression all combine to create his distinctive sound. These devices (as well as the use of chromatic and quartal harmony) will be used through the next 3 variations which I will aim to analyse soon.

Any comments, suggestions or corrections please get in touch.