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Repertory Archive

Frederick Delius



Frederick Delius, whose real name was Theodore Albert, was born in Bradford, York, England in 1862. The son of a German wool merchant who did not regard music as a suitable profession, Delius entered the family business at which he was a failure so, in 1884, he went to Florida where he grew oranges and managed a plantation at Solano Grove near Jacksonville. He studied music with Thomas Ward and, in 1886, entered the Leipzig Conservatory where he was befriended by Edvard Grieg. On leaving the conservatory, he settled in Paris where he was a
part of the group that included Gauguin, Strindberg and Munch. His earliest compositions were songs, chamber works and orchestral pieces such as the Florida suite (l887, rev. 1889), but after 1890 he concentrated on operas, Imerlin (1890-92); The Magic Fountain (1893-95); Koanga (1895-97); and A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900-01). Only the last two were produced in his lifetime, Koanga at Eberfeld in 1904, and A Village Romeo and Juliet in Berlin in 1907. In 1897 Delius settled at Grez-sur-Loing, France with the artist Jelka Rosen, whom he married in 1903. Apart from a London concert inn 1899, his music was almost unknown in England until 1907 when his Piano Concerto (1897, rev. 1906), and the set of variations for chorus and orchestra Appalachia (1896-1903), were performed. Appalachia was heard by Sir Thomas Beecham, who became Delius’ most ardent champion, poetic interpreter and loyal friend. Delius’ largest work outside the opera house was his Nietzsche setting A Mass of Life (1904-05) for soloists, choir and orchestra. But his best known works are the English Rhapsody, Briggs Fair (1907), In a Summer Garden (1908), North Country Sketches (1913-14), Song of the High Hills
(1911) for wordless chorus and orchestra, and the two short tone poems On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912). In all of these Delius has a late Romantic style — dominant discords, secondary sevenths, and chromatic harmonies. He also wrote a Requiem (1914-16), a Violin Concerto (1916), a Cello Concerto (1921), a Concerto for Violin and Cello (1915-16), and the opera Fennimore and Gerda (1909-10, performed in Frankfurt in 1919). Due to illness, the incidental music for Flecker’s Hassan (1920-23) was the last music written by his own hand. In 1928, Eric Fenby became his musical secretary and enabled Delius to complete
A Song of Summer (1929-30) for orchestra, the Third Violin Sonata (1930) and Songs of Farewell (1930) for chorus and orchestra. Blind and paralyzed, Delius visited England for the last time in 1929 for Beecham’s festival of his, Delius’ music. He died at Grez-sur-Loing, France in 1934, but is buried at Limpsfield, Surrey, England. Source: The New College Encyclopedia of Music by J. A. Westrup and F. L. Harrison, revised by Conrad Wilson; W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1981