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Composer (MIDI)

Frederick Delius (1862-1934); ENG

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Frederick Delius

Frederick Delius' singing lines and rich harmonies evokes such sensuous moods and feelings that he is usually associated with the French Impressionists rather than with his English compatriots. Although the subjects of his works were often specific, Delius' music expresses, instead, the composer's emotional reactions to those subjects. This can be easily heard by listening to his On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring, or by reading the composer's own words in this regard, "Nothing is so wonderful as elemental feeling; nothing is more wonderful in art than elemental feeling expressed intensely."

Born in England in 1862, Delius' sojourn in Florida, studies in Germany, travels to Scandinavia, and eventual residency in France provided such diverse sources of musical inspiration that there remained little English flavor to his music. Delius' music evokes, instead, the immediacy of Black American folk songs, the passionate harmonies of Wagner, the romantic vistas of Grieg, and the evocative impressionism of Debussy. At the same time, Delius' music inhabits a world very much of its own. He is best known for tone poems, such as: Karanga, Summer Night on the River, Koanga, Walk to Paradise Garden; and his works for voice and orchestra, including: Sea Drift, Songs of Farewell, Songs of Sunset, and A Mass of Life.

Delius' eclectic life and aesthetic, however, had simple beginnings. His father was a wool merchant who had moved to England from Germany, didn't consider music to be a proper profession for any of his fourteen children, yet attended concerts regularly and hosted chamber music evenings in his home. It was through him that Delius met, early on, the great Norwegian composer who would so strongly influence his life and music, Edvard Grieg. Delius' father also provided violin lessons for his son, while, at the same time, sending him to business school to prepare him to enter the family business.
Although the younger Delius preferred music, he and a friend convinced his father to back an orange grove business in Jacksonville, Florida (an area not particularly known for its wool production). Delius spent more time studying violin and absorbing the music of the local black population than tending his grove, however, for he soon abandoned the oranges for music. "In Florida," he wrote, "I gradually learnt the way in which I should naturally find myself...and hearing the Afro-Americans singing in such romantic surroundings, it was then I first felt the urge to express myself in music." His decision to return to Europe and resume his violin lessons at the Leipzig Conservatory was supported by Grieg, and Delius began composing shortly thereafter. One of his earliest compositions was the Florida Suite, written in 1888, in which he recalls the music heard during his Florida experience.

In the same year, he moved into the home of his future wife, near Fontainebleau, France. The same town where Marie-Antoinette's "little castle near Paris" was located, Fontainebleau was also to become a musical gathering-place in the 1930's and 40's, where the classes of Nadia Boulanger attracted composers such as the Americans, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and Virgil Thomson. Here, his composing flourished as he met Maurice Ravel, Paul Gauguin, and other musicians, artists, and writers, whose work inspired and influenced his own. Delius' music, in turn, influenced other composers, and, although he did not meet Duke Ellington in France, it is a matter of record that the jazz legend loved, and was influenced by, his musical style. The title of Ellington's "In a Blue Summer Garden" is a clear tribute to Delius and his work of a similar name.

An especially important event took place in 1907, when the great British conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, hear Delius' Appalachia at a London Concert. As a practical matter, it is conductors who often bring success to composers; they hear the composers' works, like them, and perform them. This was the case with Delius and Beecham, who became the composer's champion and remained so until the conductor's death in 1961.

The First World War interrupted Delius' work, and he and his wife left France to live in England and Norway. Delius' health declined severely during this time; blindness and paralysis had overcome him by 1910, but his mind and speech remained unimpaired. His efforts to continue composing were given a great assist when, in 1928, Eric Fenby, a Yorkshire born composer and lover of Delius' music, moved in. Fenby became the composer's amanuensis, and took down his musical dictation until Delius' death in 1934.

In 1956, Beecham wrote in his biography of Delius, "I cannot do other than regard him as the last great apostle in our time of romance, emotion, and beauty in music."

Biography by David Barg. Copyright © Classical Archives, LLC. All rights reserved.


Delius, Fritz (Theodor Albert) later Frederick Delius (b Bradford, Yorks., 1862; d Grez-sur-Loing, Fr., 1934). Eng. composer. Fourth of 14 children of a Ger. couple who had settled in Eng. to engage in the wool trade. The father, Julius Delius, was a mus. lover, helping to organize Hallé concerts in Bradford and entertaining musicians like Joachim and Piatti in his home, but implacably opposed to mus. as a career for his son, despite Fritz's talent and aptitude. The youth tried to accede to his father's wishes by entering business, but he had no gift for textile commerce and in 1884 went to Florida to manage an orange-plantation at Solana Grove. The oranges were neglected while Delius studied mus. with Thomas F. Ward, a Jacksonville organist. A year later he himself set up as a vn. teacher first in Jacksonville, then at Danville, Virginia, eventually taking an organist's post in NY. The Negro melodies he heard in Florida deeply influenced him, as can be heard in Appalachia. By now his father was prepared to allow him to enter the Leipzig Cons. (1886). Academic tuition held no attractions, however, and Delius went to live in the Paris of the 90s where his circle incl. Gauguin, Ravel, Munch, and Strindberg. Already, on a holiday in Norway in 1887, he had become a close friend of Grieg and deeply attached to Scandinavian life and literature.

His Florida suite was perf. privately in Leipzig, 1888. While in Paris he comp. his first opera, Irmelin (1890-1, f.p. Oxford 1953). This was followed by The Magic Fountain (1894-5, f.p. BBC studio broadcast 1977), songs, the first Vn. Sonata, the tone-poem Over the Hills and Far Away (begun c.1893), and another opera, Koanga (1896-7). In 1899 a concert of his works was given in London which encouraged him to complete his orch. nocturne Paris: the Song of a Great City. This was perf. at Elberfeld, 1901, cond. by Hans Haym and a year later in Berlin under Busoni. Haym also cond. f.p. of the Pf. Conc., in Elberfeld 1904, with Julius Buths as soloist. Haym, together with Fritz Cassirer, was Delius's earliest champion, being followed some years later in England by Wood and, in particular, Beecham. Until about 1904 Delius pubd. his works under the name Fritz Delius.

From 1897, Delius lived at Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau, with the artist Jelka Rosen, whom he married in 1903. From 1899 to 1902 he worked on 2 operas, A Village Romeo and Juliet, and Margot-la-Rouge, and revised Appalachia (begun c.1896). His reputation in Ger. was greater at this time than in his native land but the balance was corrected from 1907 with in England of a series of works: 1907: pf. conc. (London, soloist Szanto, cond. Wood); 1908: Paris (Liverpool, cond. Beecham), Life's Dance (first version) (London, cond. Arbós), Brigg Fair (Liverpool, cond. Bantock), Sea Drift (Sheffield, cond. Wood); 1909: A Mass of Life (London, cond. Beecham), In a Summer Garden (first version) (London, cond. Delius), Dance Rhapsody No.1 (Hereford, cond. Delius).

In 1908-10 he comp. his last opera Fennimore and Gerda, prod. Frankfurt 1919. During the 1914-18 war he left Grez for Eng. for a time, composing Dance Rhapsody No.2, vn. sonata, vc. sonata, conc. for vn. and vc., str. qt., vn. conc., Eventyr, and a Requiem (text by H. Simon) ‘dedicated to the memory of all young artists fallen in the war’. This last work was perf. in 1922 and was so savagely criticized for its ‘atheism’ that it remained unperf. again for over 40 years. Shortly after the war he wrote a vc. conc. and the incidental mus. to Flecker's play Hassan (1923). In 1922 Delius developed the first signs of progressive paralysis, said to have resulted from syphilis contracted in Paris in 1890s, or even perhaps in Florida. Four years later he became blind and helpless. From 1928 he was enabled to continue composing through the assistance of a young Yorkshire musician, Eric Fenby, who offered his services as amanuensis. Among the works comp. in this period were A Song of Summer, the 3rd vn. sonata, Songs of Farewell, Fantastic Dance, and an Idyll based on material from Margot-la-Rouge. In 1929 Delius was made a CH and went to London to attend a fest. of 6 concerts of his mus. organized by Beecham. He died 5 years later, being buried at Grez, but in May 1935 was reinterred at Limpsfield, Surrey.

Delius's mus. is chromatic in harmony and belongs in form and spirit to the post-Wagnerian world of Chausson, Debussy, Strauss, and Mahler. He is par excellence the composer-poet of regret for time past, of the transience of human love, but there is also a vigorous ecstatic elation in sections of A Mass of Life and the Song of the High Hills. Though he despised the classical procedures, his sonatas and concs. succeed because of the way in which he adapted his rhapsodic manner to suit his own version of sonata form. The exquisite orch. scoring of such short works as On hearing the first cuckoo in spring and the intermezzo, Walk to the Paradise Garden, from A Village Romeo and Juliet, have ensured him a regular place in the Eng. repertory, and his songs and unacc. choral works are also very fine. Prin. works:

OPERAS: Irmelin (1890-2); The Magic Fountain (1894-5, rev. 1898); Koanga (1896-7, rev. 1898); A Village Romeo and Juliet (1899-1901); Margot-la-Rouge (1901-2); Fennimore and Gerda (1908-10).

MELODRAMA: Paa Vidderne, speaker, orch. (poem by Ibsen, 1859-60, set to Ger. trans., Auf dem Hochgebirge, by L. Passarge). Comp. 1888.

INCIDENTAL MUSIC: Folkeraadet (Parliament), play by G. Heiberg (1897); Hassan, play by James Elroy Flecker (1920-3).

ORCH.: Florida Suite (1886-7, rev. 1889); Sleigh Ride; Marche Caprice (1888; Sleigh Ride orch. 1889, Marche Caprice rev. 1890); Summer Evening (1890); Paa Vidderne (On the Mountains), sym.-poem (1890-1, rev. 1892); Over the Hills and Far Away (?1893-?7); La Calinda (from Koanga, 1896-7, arr. Fenby 1938); Life's Dance (1899, rev. 1901 and 1912); Paris: the Song of a Great City (1899); Appalachia, American Rhapsody (1st vers. 1896. See VOICE(S) & ORCH.); Intermezzo: Walk to the Paradise Garden (1906, addition to A Village Romeo and Juliet); Brigg Fair: an English Rhapsody (1907); In a Summer Garden (1908, rev. 1913); Dance Rhapsody No.1 (1908), No.2 (1916); 2 Mood Pictures for small orch.: On hearing the first cuckoo in spring (1911-13), Summer Night on the River (1911); North Country Sketches (1913-14); Air and Dance, str. (1915); Eventyr (1917); 2 Aquarelles (arr. for str. by Fenby, 1938, from 2 unacc. ch. 1917); A Song before Sunrise (1918); A Song of Summer (1930); Fantastic Dance (1931); Irmelin Prelude (1931).

CONCERTOS: pf. (1st version in 3 movts. 1897, rev. 1898; rev. in 1 movt. 1906-7); vn. and vc. (1915, f.p. 1920, arr. for vn. and va. by Tertis 1934-5); vn. (1916, f.p. 1919 Sammons, Boult); vc. (1921, f.p. 1923 Frankfurt); Caprice and Elegy, vc., chamber orch. (1930, also for vc. and pf. or va. and pf. 1931); Suite (incl. Pastorale), vn., orch. (1888); Légende, vn., orch. (1895).

VOICE(S) & ORCH.: Maud (Tennyson), song cycle, v., orch. (1891); Zarathustra's Night Song, bar., male ch., orch. (1898); Appalachia, ch., bar., orch. (1902-3); Sea Drift, bar., ch., orch. (1903-4); A Mass of Life, SATB soloists, double ch., orch. (1904-5); Cynara, bar., orch. (1907, rev. 1928-9); Songs of Sunset, mez., bar., ch., orch. (1906-8); Song of the High Hills, ch., orch. (1911); Arabesk, bar., ch., orch. (1911); Requiem, sop., bar., ch., orch. (1913-16); A Late Lark (Henley), v., orch. (1921-5); Songs of Farewell, double ch., orch. (1930); Idyll: Once I passed through a populous city, sop., bar., orch. (1930-2).

VOICE(S) & PIANO: 5 Songs from the Norwegian (1888); 7 Songs from the Norwegian (1889-90, No. 3 with Eng. words, 1930, known as Twilight Fancies); 3 English Songs (Shelley) (1891); 2 Songs (Verlaine) (1895); 7 Danish Songs (1897); 5 Songs (4 to poems by Nietzsche) (1898); 2 Songs (1900); Summer Landscape (1902); The nightingale has a lyre of gold (Henley) (1910); I-Brasil (1913); On Craig Dhu (1907); Midsummer Song (1908); Wanderer's Song (1908); To be sung of a summer night on the water (unacc.) (1917, arr. for str. by Fenby as 2 Aquarelles, 1938); The Splendour Falls (unacc.) (1923).

CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qt. (1916, scherzo added 1919, incorp. themes from abandoned 1888 str. qt. 3rd movt., Late Swallows, arr. for str. by Fenby 1963, other 3 movts. 1977 with title Sonata for Strings); vn. sonata (1892, unpubd.), No.1 (1905-14, f.p. 1915), No.2 (f.p. 1924, arr. for va. by Tertis), No.3 (1930, arr. for va. by Tertis); vc. sonata (1916).

PIANO: Zum Carnival (1886); 3 Preludes (1923); 5 Pieces (1923).

Copyright © 1996 Oxford University Press - By permission of Oxford University Press

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