The Two Pieces for small orchestra are exquisite tone poems depicting two adjacent seasons. They were written after Delius completed his last opera, Fennimore and Gerda, which demonstrated the shift to his later style of composition. These two works, however, also look back to his earlier, very personal style. Both are scored for a reduced orchestra of flute, oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and strings.
"On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring" (1912) opens on a beautiful sustained major seventh chord followed by the oboe introducing a pastoral bird-like pattern. Then "with easy flowing movement," a song in triple meter is introduced in the strings with drones in the cellos and basses. The simple, sweet, pastoral, modal melody is harmonized by Delius with chromatic passing tones that at times give the impression of bitonality when set against the lower harmonic roots. The melody is built in cumulative phrases, until the oboe has learned the whole tune and now steps forward as a solo underscored by lovely strings. The clarinet then comes forward with an authentic "cuckoo" call. The middle section of the tune is developed as the "cuckoo" clarinet enters at several points. The strings create a small looping pattern just before the ending, and manifest some simple yet rich new harmonies. A major chord dies away to silence. The piece is based on the Norwegian folk song "In Ola Valley, in Ola Dale," and is, to some extent, a transcription of Edvard Grieg's own treatment of the piece in his Norwegian Folksongs for piano, Op. 66.
"Summer-night on the river" (1911), one of the few thoroughly impressionist pieces by this composer, opens with gently sighing winds, over a droning pedal point in the muted double basses, and sustained horn notes. The string section enters, their muted sound creating a rich yet somber timbre. There is the beginning of a sea-faring melody but it quickly transforms into undulating figures and trills that perfectly describe a flowing river. A solo cello sings out with a lyrical theme, which is taken over by a solo violin, soon joined by a solo viola, all surrounded by the flowing patterns. The solo violin melody becomes "softer and softer as if dying away in the distance." There is a mystical and atmospheric coda with trilling chromatics in the solo violin, supported by sustained and pizzicato strings. The river in question is the Loing, upon which the wildly blossoming garden of Delius' villa, in the French village of Grez, near Fontainebleau, faced; this distilled tone poem -- playing between six and seven minutes -- is the upshot of many meditative hours spent there.