Frederick (Fritz) Theodore Albert Delius (January 29, 1862–June 10, 1934) was an English composer. Delius was born on January 29, 1862, at Bradford in Yorkshire, England, and baptized as “Fritz Theodore Albert Delius.” He used the forename Fritz until he was about 40. His parents were Julius Delius (1822–1901) and his wife Elise Pauline, née Krönig (1838–1929). They were born at Bielefeld in Westphalia, German, of Dutch origin. Julius moved to England to further his career as a wool merchant, and became a naturalized British subject in 1850. He married Elise in 1856. Frederick was the second of four sons, along with ten sisters. The Delius household was musical; famous musicians such as Joseph Joachim and Carlo Alfredo Piatti were guests, and played for the family. As a boy, Fritz learned to play both violin and piano proficiently before he reached his teens. The young Delius was first taught the violin by a Mr. Bauerkeller of the Hallé Orchestra, and had more advanced studies under Mr. George Haddock of Leeds. Achieving enough skill as a violinist to set up as a violin teacher in later years, but his chief musical joy was to improvise at the piano. From 1874 to 1878, he was educated at Bradford Grammar School, and then attended the International College at Isleworth between 1878 and 1880.
Julius Delius assumed that his son would play a part in the family wool business, and though he finally recognized that there was no prospect that his son would succeed in the family business, he remained opposed to music as a profession, and instead sent him to America to manage an orange plantation. Delius was in Florida from the spring of 1884 to the autumn of 1885, living on a plantation at Solano Grove on the Saint Johns River, about 35 miles south of Jacksonville where he continued to be engrossed in music, and in Jacksonville he met Thomas Ward, who became his teacher in counterpoint and composition. Delius paid little attention to the business of growing oranges, and continued to pursue his musical interests. While in Florida, Delius had his first composition published, a polka for piano called Zum Carnival. In late 1885 he left a caretaker in charge of Solano Grove and moved to Danville, Virginia, where he pursued a wholly musical career, beginning to give instruction in Piano, Violin, Theory and Composition.
In 1886 Julius Delius finally agreed to allow his son to pursue a musical career, and paid for him to study music formally. Delius left Danville and returned to Europe via New York. Back in Europe he enrolled at the conservatoire in Leipzig, Germany, studying piano under Carl Reinecke, counterpoint under Salomon Jadassohn, and conducting under Hans Sitt. Delius met the composer Edvard Grieg in Leipzig. In the spring of 1888, Sitt conducted Delius’s Florida Suite for an audience of three: Grieg, Christian Sinding and the composer. After leaving Leipzig in 1888, Delius moved to Paris where his uncle, Theodore, took him under his wing and looked after him socially and financially. Over the next eight years, Delius befriended many writers and artists. Florent Schmitt arranged the piano scores of Delius’s first two operas, Irmelin and The Magic Fountain. Delius’s Paris years were musically productive. His symphonic poem Paa Vidderne was performed in Christiania in 1891 and in Monte Carlo in 1894; Gunnar Heiberg commissioned Delius to provide incidental music for his play Folkeraadet in 1897; and Delius’s second opera, The Magic Fountain, was accepted for staging at Prague, but the project fell through for unknown reasons. Other works of the period were the fantasy overture Over the Hills and Far Away (1895–97) and orchestral variations, Appalachia (1896).
In 1897, Delius met the German artist Jelka Rosen, who later became his wife. Jelka bought a house in Grez-sur-Loing, a village 40 miles outside Paris on the edge of Fontainebleau. Delius visited her there, and after a brief return visit to Florida, they married in 1903, , by which time he had anglicised his name to Frederick, and, apart from a short period when the area was threatened by the advancing German army during the First World War, Delius lived in Grez for the rest of his life. In the same year, Delius began a fruitful association with German supporters of his music, the conductors Hans Haym, Fritz Cassirer, and Alfred Hertz at Elberfeld, and Julius Buths at Düsseldorf. In 1899 Hertz gave a Delius concert in St. James’s Hall in London, which included Over the Hills and Far Away, the choral piece Mitternachtslied, and excerpts from the opera Koanga. The orchestral work Paris: The Song of a Great City was composed in 1899 and dedicated to Haym. Most of Delius’s premieres of this period were given by Haym and his fellow German conductors. In 1904 Cassirer premiered Koanga, and in the same year the Piano Concerto was given in Elberfeld, and Lebenstanz in Düsseldorf. Appalachia (choral orchestral variations on an old slave song, also inspired by Florida) followed there in 1905. Sea Drift (a cantata with words taken from a poem by Walt Whitman) was premiered at Essen in 1906, and A Village Romeo and Juliet in Berlin in 1907. Delius’s reputation in Germany remained high until the First World War; in 1910 his rhapsody Brigg Fair was given by 36 different German orchestras.
In early years of the 20th century, Delius composed some of his most popular works, including a Summer Garden (1908, revised 1911), Summer Night on the River (1911), and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912). During the First World War, Delius and Jelka moved from Grez to avoid the hostilities soon after the completion of North Country Sketches (1913/4). They took up temporary residence in the south of England, where Delius continued to compose. One of Delius’s major wartime works was his Requiem, dedicated “to the memory of all young Artists fallen in the war.” His final purely orchestral work was A Poem of Life and Love (1918/9). By the end of the war, Delius and Jelka had returned to Grez. Albert Coates gave the first performance of A Song of the High Hills by Delius in 1920. Henry Wood gave the British première of the Double Concerto for violin and cello in 1920, and of A Song Before Sunrise and the Dance Rhapsody No. 2 in 1923. Delius’s last essay in concerto form, for the cello, dates from 1921. Delius had a financial and artistic success with his incidental music for James Elroy Flecker’s play Hassan (1923), which he completed with the help of his friend, the composer Percy Grainger. However, he had begun to show symptoms of syphilis that he had probably contracted in the 1880s. He took treatment at clinics across Europe, but by 1922 he was walking with two sticks, and by 1928 he was paralysed and blind, although his mental faculties were to remain unimpaired until his death..
A young English admirer from Yorkshire, Eric Fenby, learning that Delius was trying to compose by dictating to Jelka, volunteered his services as unpaid amanuensis. For five years, from 1928, he worked with Delius, taking down his new compositions from dictation, and helping him revise earlier works. Together they produced Cynara (a setting of words by Ernest Dowson), A Late Lark (a setting of W. E. Henley), A Song of Summer, a third violin sonata, the Irmelin prelude, and Idyll (1932), which reused music from Delius’s short opera Margot la rouge, and their greatest joint production was The Songs of Farewell, settings of Whitman poems for chorus and orchestra, which were dedicated to Jelka. Other works produced in this period include a Caprice and Elegy for cello and orchestra written for the distinguished British cellist Beatrice Harrison, and a short orchestral piece, Fantastic Dance, which Delius dedicated to Fenby. There was a six-day Delius festival at the Queen’s Hall in 1929 under Thomas Beecham’s general direction, with premières of Cynara and A Late Lark, concluding with A Mass of Life. Also in 1929 Heseltine persuaded Beecham to record Delius’s Air and Dance, written in 1915 but never performed,
In 1933, the year before both composers died, Elgar, who had flown to Paris to conduct a performance of his Violin Concerto, visited Delius at Grez. With all his outstanding works completed, Delius died at Grez-sur-Loing on June 10, 1934, aged 72. He had wished to be buried in his own garden, but the French authorities forbade it. His alternative wish, despite his atheism, was to be buried “in some country churchyard in the south of England, where people could place wild flowers.” At this time Jelka was too ill to make the journey across the Channel, and Delius was temporarily buried in the local cemetery at Grez. By May 1935, Jelka felt she had enough strength to undertake the crossing to attend a reburial in England. St. Peter’s Church at Limpsfield in Surrey, was chosen. Jelka became ill en route, and on arrival was taken to hospital in Dover and then Kensington in London, missing the reburial on May 26. Jelka died two days later, on May 28, and was buried in the same grave as her husband.
The following works by Frederick Delius are contained in my collection:
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody (1907).
Eventyr, Once Upon a Time, after Asbjornsen’s Folklore (1917).
Irmelin (1892): Prelude.
La Calinda (1887; first movement of Florida Suite, later used in opera Koanga).
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.
Paris: Nocturne, The Song of a Great City (1899).
Two Aquarelles arr. from two unaccompanied partsongs of Delius by Eric Fenby (1917).
A Village Romeo and Juliet:The Walk to the Paradise Garden.
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources