Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was an English composer. Delius’ life was a battle - he fought his parents to be a musician, struggled with syphilis, and was neglected in his adoptive France - but against all the odds, he became one of England's greatest composers.
Life and Music
Delius enjoyed exposure to music from an early age, and had both piano and violin lessons, but his parents didn’t want him to become a professional musician and he dutifully spent three years working at his father’s wool company.
In 1884 Delius was sent to Florida to supervise an orange plantation that his father had agreed to finance. He spent much of his time there filling the gaps in his music education, and composed his Florida Suite.
Following Delius’s stay in Florida, his father grudgingly allowed him to enrol on an 18-month course at the Leipzig Conservatoire. There Delius befriended Grieg, who helped persuade Delius’s parents that he should make music his career.
In 1897 Delius moved to Grez-sur-Loing, a village 40 miles south-east of Paris. He was based there for the rest of his life, apart from a brief period during the First World War when he sheltered in England and in Norway. Meanwhile, he had formed a relationship with German artist Jelka Rosen and they married in 1903. Inspired by his new surroundings, Delius’s creative facility went into overdrive, beginning with the sublime opera A Village Romeo and Juliet.
The conductor Sir Thomas Beecham did much to support Delius’ music in England, organising and directing a festival of six concerts devoted entirely to Delius’s music in 1929. This at long last confirmed Delius as one of England’s most important composers, although by then he had become severely immobilised and sat in the audience almost totally paralysed and blind as a result of the syphilis he had contracted during his time in Florida.
In 1934, Delius’ condition rapidly worsened and he relied on morphine to ease his suffering.
Did you know?
Delius died in June 1934, within four months of the two other great British composers of the period, Elgar and Holst.