Frederick (Theodore Albert) Delius


Frederick Delius was born in Bradford, England, in 1862, the son of a reasonably rich merchant. He played the piano and learned the violin when he was young, and visited Covent Garden when he was 13 to hear Wagner’s Lohengrin. When he left school, he succumbed to his father’s wishes and joined the family’s wool company. This gave him the opportunity to visit Paris and Norway on business, where he made acquaintances who were to influence him in later life. In 1884 Delius persuaded his father to lend him some money so that he could move to Florida, USA, and set up business as an orange grower. Moving to Solano Grove, Jacksonville, he ignored oranges and started serious composing, learning music from a friend there, Thomas Ward. Delius also contracted syphilis.

Delius then moved to Danville, Virginia, and earned a living singing, teaching and playing the organ, before discovering that his father (who had disapproved of music-making as a profession) had decided to pay for Delius to attend the Leipzig Conservatory. While in Leipzig (1886-early 1888), he composed much music and met Grieg, who encouraged him and persuaded his father to continue his financial support of Delius’ career. After the 18-month course ended, Delius moved to Paris and became a ‘social animal’, mixing with artistic types, including Paul Gaugin. By around 1895, he had completed several operas, songs, and chamber pieces, and the next year met his future wife, the young painter Jelka Rosen.

In 1887 Delius moved with Jelka to Grez-sur-Loing, near Paris, marrying her 6 years later. He continued to compose, writing works such as On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912). There was a brief spell when Delius and his wife fled to England during the First World War, suffering from the loss of German royalties. After the war, however, the syphilis began to affect Delius’ health severely, and he was soon blind and paralysed, with Hassan (1920-23) being the last work he could write with his own hand. A young man named Eric Fenby offered his services as a transcriber of Delius’ music so that he could still compose, and after a long period of learning Frederick’s ways, the two managed to continue to produce numerous works, including Songs of Farewell (1930).

In 1929, Sir Thomas Beecham staged a Delius Festival, which the composer attended, and Delius was made a companion of honour. But he was very ill, and his final years in France saw very little movement on his part. He received a few visitors, including Elgar , but died in 1934. He wished to be buried in his garden, but French law prohibited it and he was finally buried in Limpsfield in Surrey.

Related Composers: Chausson, Debussy, R Strauss, Ravel

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