Frederick Theodore Albert Delius was born on 29 January 1862 in Bradford, Yorkshire (UK). He was sent to Florida in the United States in 1884 to manage an orange plantation. There he soon neglected his managerial duties, and in 1886 returned to Europe. Having been influenced by African-American music during his short stay in Florida, he began composing. After a brief period of formal musical study in Germany beginning in 1886, he embarked on a full-time career as a composer in Paris and then in nearby Grez-sur-Loing, where he and his wife Jelka lived for the rest of their lives, except during the First World War.
His first successes came in Germany, where Hans Haym and other conductors promoted his music from the late 1890s. In Britain, it was 1907 before his music made regular appearances in concert programmes, after Thomas Beecham took it up. Beecham conducted the full premiere of ‘A Mass of Life’ in London in 1909 (he had premiered Part II in Germany in 1908); he staged the opera ‘A Village Romeo and Juliet’ at Covent Garden in 1910; and he mounted a six-day Delius festival in London in 1929, as well as making gramophone recordings of many of Delius’s works. After 1918 Delius began to suffer the effects of syphilis, contracted during his earlier years in Paris. He became paralysed and blind, but completed some late compositions between 1928 and 1932 with the aid of an amanuensis, Eric Fenby. Fenby later wrote a book about his experiences of working with Delius.
Delius died at Grez on 10 June 1934, aged 72. He had wished to be buried in his own garden, but the French authorities forbade it. His alternative wish, despite his atheism, was to be buried “in some country churchyard in the south of England, where people could place wild flowers”. At this time Jelka was too ill to make the journey across the Channel, and Delius was temporarily buried in the local cemetery at Grez. By May 1935, Jelka felt she had enough strength to undertake the crossing to attend a reburial in England. She chose St Peter’s Church, Limpsfield, Surrey as the site for the grave. She became ill en route, and on arrival was taken to hospital in Dover and then Kensington in London, missing the reburial on 26 May. Jelka died two days later. She was buried in the same grave as Delius.
The Delius Society, formed in 1962 by his more dedicated followers, continues to promote knowledge of the composer’s life and works, and sponsors the annual Delius Prize competition for young musicians.
Kate Bush recorded the song Delius as a tribute to his life and work.
- Frederick Delius. Wikipedia, retrieved 12 September 2017.