Frederick Delius's 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring,' Played By Halle Orchestra

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Frederick Delius
Halle Orchestra; Sir John Barbirolli, conductor
Available on Arkivmusic.com

We all look for signs of spring. Some, such as daffodils and crocuses in bloom, are welcome. Others – the watery, itchy eyes from all that pollen, and the sound of your car hitting all those potholes – not so much. One of the good sounds of spring is birdsong. The song of the cuckoo is a particularly significant spring totem. Has been for centuries. There are all kinds of legends about hearing the first cuckoo of the year. Depending on where you are or what you’re doing, the first cuckoo’s song is supposed to be able to tell your fortune, including how many years you have left to live.

We don’t know why the cuckoo has all that power. Maybe it’s because it’s a little bit mysterious. Cuckoos are easy to hear, but not very easy to spot. Frederick Delius accorded the cuckoo a special honor by writing a symphonic poem about it. Delius was born in England to German immigrant parents. He wrote this piece when he was living in France, and based some of the music on a folk song from Norway that Grieg had arranged. German roots, French residence, Norwegian tune – but when Delius adds them up, they turn into something that sounds very English. Listen for the cuckoo in this piece. You won’t even hear him coming, but when he arrives, it’ll be a nice surprise, like any other welcome sign of spring. John Barbirolli conducts the Halle Orchestra.

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