My wife Jean and I are slowly put together a very difficult 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle: Monet’s The Waterlily Pond. Look at the picture and you’ll see why it is so difficult! I have been putting on some of Delius’s music to provide the necessary ambience for this task: calm, calming, intense, harmonically complex. Then I came across Ken Russell’s docu-drama (as it would be called these days) on the composer Frederick Delius as experienced by Eric Fenby. The title of this post is the title of this television programme made the 1960s. This led to some more listening of many atmospheric compositions by Delius.

It dawned on me a few days ago that listening to Delius is completely unencumbered by the key anxieties reflected in these posts. I have never been aware of key in Delius’s music. There are keys, there are changes of key, but clearly, to me, they are not germane to the music’s feeling, structure or power. This is so freeing, adding a dimension of delight to this most glorious music. I have a feeling that Delius would be delighted too, since the constructs of “classical” form (including key relationships) were something to be avoided, as Russell’s film made plain. Though it cannot be true that a composer as aware of colour and tone would not have been acutely sensitive to the ‘colours’ of the keys he chose. But his key choices are not an aspect of this music that comes across as essential to my enjoyment.

As if to emphasise this point, later the same day my daughter Ursula was playing the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata on the piano. This slow movement is in one of my favourite keys, A flat major. And as she started, Beethoven’s music was indeed in this mellifluous key. So it remained all the way through until the end, but throughout my listening, I was never sure that it might not slip up to the relatively emotion-free (to me, at least) key of A major. So mine was not an entirely relaxed listen to this wonderful music.

There are no such worries with Delius.