Delius or Elgar? Britten or Tippett? Which side of the great divide do you stand?

Delius or Elgar? Britten or Tippett? Which side of the great divide do you stand?


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2014

My review of a new Delius release as Album of the Week on prompted a broader reflecion on the English tendency to throw up unequal pairs of composers. Few imagine the names above to be of comparable genius. Yet a substantial number of listeners and scholars will always take the minority view. Where do you stand? Read on here.



Frederick-Delius-007  orelgar


photo (c) Lebrecht Music&Arts


  • Tim Benjamin says:

    Birtwistle or Maxwell-Davies?

  • Colin Reed says:

    Noel Coward or Andrew Lloyd Webber?

  • Roger M says:

    Tavener or Rutter?

  • Paul Pellay says:

    Divide? What divide? There is none as far as I’m concerned.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Tippett was never as “twee” as Britten could be, but Britten was never as cringingly “trendy” as Tippett could be. No matter, I love them both and couldn’t do without either.

  • Tom Foley says:

    It’s folly to make direct comparisons of musicians on a “greater than” basis. Changing times and changing tastes may trump every musical judgement we make. There are no absolutes in artistic taste. Say, whatever happened to Josquin des prez anyway?

  • Brian says:

    Elgar over Delius. I’m sorry, but to me an awful lot of Delius sounds like Ketelby in fancy dress. Not all of him, not the Mass of Life certainly.

    So much of Tippett is wonderful, e.g. Midsummer Marriage but oh Lordy, those awful libretti. King Priam is the best if the lot.

    Not that fake rivalries between composers really mean much of anything.

  • Marc says:

    Lennon or McCartney?

  • m2n2k says:

    My answers, for whatever they are worth, would be: Elgar and Britten.

  • Halldor says:

    Bit silly, this. Holst died the same year as Elgar & Delius; why not throw him into the mix too? Reminds me of those pre-war music textbooks that grouped Bruckner & Mahler as if they too were merely two sides of the same coin.

    But Delius and Tippett are both going through unfashionable phases. Both will be back. I always enjoy the way that Delius is sneered at (by the sort of people who sneer at these sort of things) as a parochial English pastoralist – when he was English only by accident of birth, wrote his most ambitious works in German, set Nietzsche to music, lived in France and had his closest musical friendships with a Norwegian and an Aussie. He was so defiantly un-cosy that he died of syphilis.

    He’s the most genuinely cosmopolitan major composer ever to come out of the UK: you just need an open ear. Recently tuned in mid-broadcast on R3 to a piece which – after 5 mins’ listening – I was convinced was Delius. Turned out to be Schoenberg (Pelleas & Melisande). So think on, as they say in Bradford.

  • robcat2075 says:

    I wouldn’t wish to banish any of them.

  • Rev. O. Lution Willcum says:

    Adam Carse “Orchestration”, Debussy and…Holst? There’s a Divide for you

  • Michael Antrobus says:

    Silly comparison really. They are all good in their own right!!!! It’s a matter of individual taste. (I avoid Bizet!)

  • Yossi Peles says:

    Personally, I prefer Delius; as a matter of fact, I’m a Delius fan and his music is as dear to me as Wagner’s and Scriabin’s (among some others). But objectively speaking, Elgar is the better musician, or rather the better ‘technician’ and in a few works (the cello concerto, for example, or the Enigma variations) he even touches that realm of poetry and inspiration of which Delius is a native inhabitant. As for Britten and Tippett, they are both wonderful, the former being, I think, the more immediately attractive. On the whole one should avoid quality comparisons of works of art; they may be used only for instructive, pedagogic, purposes.