Delius - On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Delius wrote this beautiful tone poem in 1912. Its first performance, just under a year later, took place in Leipzig.
This is the sister piece to Summer Night on the River. Together, they make up Two Small Pieces for Orchestra, which is occasionally referred to as Two Mood Pictures for Small Orchestra. Listen out for the number of different instruments imitating the natural sounds of the cuckoo, including the oboe, strings, and clarinet.
At the centre of the work is an old Norwegian folk song called ‘In Ola Valley’, which is stunningly beautiful in its own right. It had also attracted the attentions of the composer Grieg in his time. For Delius' sublime arrangement, we have the eccentric Australian composer Percy Grainger to thank, as he was the one who stuck it under Delius' nose in the first place.
Following its British premiere in 1914, it became a favourite, helped on its way by the never-flagging championship of the conductor and great friend of Delius, Thomas Beecham. It is just possible that Beecham and Delius were already familiar with ‘In Ola Valley’ prior to Grainger’s encouragement, having spent the summer of 1909 rambling in the Norwegian mountains together, no doubt ears permanently pricked for any musical titbits. Today, it feels like a Delius original.