"Dowson found harlots cheaper than hotels," noted Ezra Pound (in "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"), evoking the gritty, catch-as-catch-can life against which Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) hymned the vision of true, pure love: the Cynara of his poem, of which Delius made a partial setting in 1907. The poem in question is "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub Regno Cynarae" (The days when Cynara was queen will not return for me), a title drawn from Catullus. Dowson's Cynara was a 12-year-old waitress in her father's restaurant in Soho, one Adelaide Foltinowicz, whom he met, and proposed to, when he was 24. Dowson's hopes were kept at high tension for six years -- through which he was an influential and prolific member of the Rhymer's Club, whose members included Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, and William Butler Yeats -- though finally disappointed by her marriage to a waiter. The nature of the affair is apparent from the notorious lines, "Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet; But I was desolate and sick of an old passion, When I awoke and found the dawn was grey: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! In my fashion." Dowson's manner of life, which contributed to his death from tuberculosis at 32, is also accurately reflected in the lines, "I cried for madder music and for stronger wine/But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire/Then falls thy shadow, Cynara!" Just here, Delius put his setting aside, realizing that the completed Cynara would be out of proportion with the remainder of his Songs of Sunset, for soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra, for which it was intended; a linking theme from Songs of Sunset is heard throughout Cynara. Twenty years later, Eric Fenby, Delius' amanuensis, found the truncated work in a stash of sketches and prompted the blind, paralyzed composer to complete it by dictating the conclusion and orchestration. Allusions to Delius' great tone poem Paris -- The Song of a Great City, in Cynara are eloquent testimony to the locus of Delius' encounter with his own Cynara during his bohemian years in Paris, before the turn of the century, but of which nothing is known except the tremendous sway his love for her held to the end of his life, so that she loomed as his femme inspiratrice, so to speak, in absentia. Cynara is dedicated to the memory of Philip Heseltine, known to all lovers of English song as Peter Warlock.
Description by Adrian Corleonis
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