The music of Delius having appeared in only three major features to date, one might expect filmmakers to avail themselves more fully of his richly beautiful yet ephemeral timbres and endlessly unfolding melodies, but perhaps his unique sound and moods fit only very subtle and special scenarios.
Delius' musical style developed fully in his late thirties. From Wagner's music he learned his sense of flow enhanced by an elusive chromaticism, and from Grieg he inherited the skill of writing touching modal melodies and of presenting an airy orchestral texture. Life in his music and its subjects is expressed as transient yet ever renewing. In 1989, Petr Weigl created an exquisite film version of the Delius masterpiece, his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900-1901), based on Gottfried Keller's "poetic realist" novella Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe. The poetic realism movement embraced folk and peasant culture as a counterbalance to the encroachment of industrialism. Delius decided to focus on the love affair between Sali (Manz's son) and Vreli (Marti's daughter) rather than setting the scenes in the original story that dealt with the violent conflict between Manz and Marti, a long-standing feud between the families.
There are many elegant matches of visuals and music in this film. Each of the establishing landscapes is differentiated by a unique musical setting, sometimes with the rich sonority of six French horns, and at other times with woodwind figures describing flowing streams, or with echoing lontano (distant) horns with soft tympani rolls and slowly evolving timbres underscoring the sun setting between snowy mountains. And, for consummate beauty, few musical or cinematic moments can compare with the orchestral interlude Walk to the Paradise Garden, or the lyric passion of the couple's final love-duet ("See the Moonbeams Kiss the Woods"). The wonderful waltz rhythms of the scene at the Berghald Fair are complemented by the constant interplay of characters moving at various tempos, dancing, walking, chasing, standing at booths, and so on. The character of the Dark Fiddler is perfectly drawn (played by Thomas Hampson) as a wandering outcast and representative of the voice of nature who offers to the couple the possibility of entering his bohemian world free from religious, parental, and moral strictures. The couple eventually decide to stay to themselves: Sali asks Vreli if they should follow the bohemians to the mountains, and on that last word the screen reveals snow-capped peaks in light accompanied by a horn theme.
Ken Russell's droll and compassionate Song of Summer (1968) traces the loves and foibles of a composer (Delius) in seaside, mountainside, and hotel room scenes accompanied by some of Delius' finest music: Song of the High Hills, Brigg Fair, Requiem, Walk to the Paradise Garden, and Song of Summer. The beautifully photographed The Yearling (1946), adapted from the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel, employs themes from several of Delius' works including the Florida Suite (1887) (themes). The film tells the story of a rebel soldier, his wife, and their 11-year-old son Jody who move near the Florida Everglades after the Civil War to farm. The fearful, hardened mother is troubled by the death of her other children, while the father is warm-hearted. The boy has to face harsher realities as his pet fawn grows to maturity. In 1884, Delius himself settled at Solano Grove near Jacksonville, FL, on the St. Johns River supposedly to grow oranges but actually to get the freedom to compose.