Period: 20th Century
Frederick Delius was an English composer who forged a unique version of the Impressionist musical language of the early twentieth century. He was born in Bradford, England, in 1862, and died in Grez-sur-Loing, France, in 1934. He did not come from a musical family; rather, his father owned a wool company and hoped that his son would follow a career in business. Delius, however, wanted to study music, and though his father did not approve of musicRead more as a profession, he did not discourage music-making as a pastime; thus, Delius was allowed to study the violin and the piano. To his father's dismay, he also spent much of his youth sneaking away from school to attend concerts and opera performances. When he completed school, he went to work for his father in the family business. In 1884, he left England for Florida, where he worked on a plantation as an orange grower. While in Florida, he began studying music with Thomas Ward, a musician and teacher from Jacksonville. Delius proved to be a failure as an orange grower, and began supporting himself as a musician. In 1886, his father arranged for him to spend a year and a half studying music in Germany at the Leipzig Conservatory. Though Delius would later insist that he learned very little of importance during his stay in Leipzig, it was there that he met Grieg, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship. Grieg convinced Delius' father to allow the young man to become a composer, and Delius, with the support of his formerly reluctant father, soon moved to Paris and began living the life of an artist.
Once in Paris, Delius began composing in earnest, and towards the end of the nineteenth century had already completed two operas, Irmelin and The Magic Fountain. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Delius married the painter Jelka Rosen and produced a number of important works, including the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, the large-scale choral works Appalachia and A Mass of Life (based on the writings of Nietzsche), a piano concerto, and a number of songs and chamber pieces. His music was well-received throughout Europe, and Delius was quite successful up until World War I, when he was forced to leave France for England. Despite his renown in continental Europe, Delius was virtually unknown in his native England, and his stay there was marred by financial difficulties. After the war, Delius returned to France, where the syphilis he had contracted in Florida gradually caused him to become paralyzed and blind. Ironically, as Delius became increasingly infirm, his fame began to spread. This was due in large part to the efforts of English composer Sir Thomas Beecham, who championed Delius' music and organized a Delius Festival in 1929. Though terribly ill, Delius nonetheless still wanted to compose, and in 1928 enlisted the services of English musician Eric Fenby, to whom he dictated music (Fenby would later write a book about Delius). Towards the end of his life, Delius was made Companion of Honor by King George V of England, and was awarded an honorary degree in music by Oxford University. Before his death, Delius was able to hear his music over the radio and on record, but these accomplishments paled before the terrible deterioration of his health, and he died in seclusion. Read less