"Nothing is so wonderful as elemental feeling; nothing is more wonderful in art than elemental feeling expressed intensely."
Frederick Delius was born 29 January, 1862, in Bradford, Yorkshire; the son of a German wool merchant. At the age of 19 he
reluctantly entered the family manufacturing business. Anxious to get away, he rebelled against his father and went off to seek his own destiny. In 1884 the young Delius moved to Solano Grove near Jacksonville, Florida to manage an orange grove. Neglecting his oranges, Delius instead concentrated on his music. The beauty of the luxuriant surroundings, coupled with the old, Caribbean-style songs and dances (whose melodies and rhythms had a profound influence on his music), were the inspiration for his early Florida Suite.
In 1886 Delius returned from Florida and enrolled at Leipzig Conservatory for further musical studies. It was there that he was befriended by composer Edvard Grieg. Grieg shared with Delius his deep love of the mountain air and fjords of Norway, touching Delius's deep respect for both the power and beauty of nature.
Delius was a pantheist: He worshipped nature. Occasionally, human drama enters his music, but for much of the time its energy springs from the landscapes, climates and wildlife that he knew and loved: the subtropical everglades of Florida, the green fields and woods of France and England, and the snowy mountains of Norway. His deep love for nature is evident in many of his works, for instance "Over the Hills and Far Away," "Sea Drift," "A Song Before Sunrise", and, of course, "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring".
Delius never much liked England, the land of his birth. Continuing to follow his own solitary star until the day he died, he never returned to England to live, moving to Paris instead in 1894. This is the one big city that the otherwise country-loving Delius adored -- so much so, in fact, that it inspired him to write the colourful orchestral piece Paris: The Song of a Great City It was here that he met Ravel and Gaugin.
In 1897 Delius was ready for the peace and quiet of the countryside, and decided to settle by a river in the small village of Grez, close to the forest of Fontainbleau, in France. It was there that he met and married German artist Jelka Rosen in 1904. No man ever had a more devoted wife than Delius had in his Jelka. This talented, German-born artist largely sacrificed her own career to nurse him through his last tragic years, when he was paralysed and blind. The strain also ruined Jelka's health, yet she insisted on leaving her hospital bed to be with him when he died.
Delius was blind and parlysed in middle age, the result of syphilis. The first signs of his illness became apparent in 1922. His mind, however, was unaffected, and he completed his last compositions with the help of his devoted assistant, fellow Englishman Eric Fenby. Fenby was a composer himself, and these works are considered to be among the composer's finest. Fenby's book Delius as I Knew Him is considered a classic.
It was yet another Englishman who became Delius's greatest champion. In 1907 Delius met the celebrated conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Beecham gave the first performance of many of Delius's works, and recorded most of his music. When Delius died on 10 June, 1934 it was Beecham who arranged for him to be buried in a quiet churchyard in Limpsfield, Surrey England.
The music of Frederick Delius hints at various influences: black American folk song and dance; Wagner's rich, shifting chromatic harmonies; Debussy's Impressionism; and the pastoral style of Vaughan Williams and other English composers. Rhapsodic, often passionate, and coloured by a deep melancholy, his music holds a spellbinding poetry and beauty. But Delius's music does not really belong to any school or movement. Nor did Delius, in his turn, inspire any school or movement.
In a broad historical sense, his music belongs to the late romantic period, spanning the end of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Beyond that, it belongs very much to a world of its own.
contributed by Gifford, Katya