Frederick Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Composed in 1912 as the first part of Frederick Delius’ Two Pieces for Small Orchestra, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring remains one of the composer’s most popular orchestral works. Although composed as a pair, the two pieces are often heard separately in programmes and recordings. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is a tone poem, and is a vivid musical painting on literally hearing the first cuckoos of emerging at springtime.
Delius uses the woodwind, namely the clarinets, to portray the cuckoo call. The pastoral opening showcases the woodwind section, who play the exchanges of cuckoo calls. The strings also play the theme, before the rich second theme is developed by the strings. The string-based second theme is based on the Norwegian folk song In Ola Valley, which was brought to Delius by fellow composer and arranger, Percy Grainger. This theme might also be recognisable as it was also used by Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg.
Throughout the piece, the woodwinds are employed to decorate the rich strings, either with obvious cuckoo calls (clarinets), or long drawn-out melodies (cor anglais and flute). As the music pans over the spring-laden countryside, Delius’ shimmering orchestrations dazzle throughout the ensemble. As the final cuckoo calls are heard from the clarinet, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring concludes quietly and with poise.
Ⓒ Alex Burns