On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Frederick Delius’s (1862–1934) most famous orchestral work, On Hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring (1912), together with another miniature, Summer Night on the River (1913), was brought out under the title Two Pieces for Small Orchestra. The small orchestra in On hearing… consists of a group of strings divided into nine parts and eight woodwind instruments. The seven-minute work is a homage to Edvard Gried, Delius’s friend and mentor, in that it is based on the same Norwegian folk song that Gried arranged in one of his piano pieces. The folk song appears in the middle section of the work, repeated several times with a richer harmonisation each time. The hazy, nostalgic character suggests Delius was paying tribute not only to his friend but also to Norway which he had visited for the first time (on business) in the early 1880s, and in a letter wrote, “Spring always means for me a longing for Norway”.