Delius, Fritz (Theodor Albert)

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Delius, Fritz (Theodor Albert) later Frederick Delius (b Bradford, Yorks., 1862; d Grez-sur-Loing, Fr., 1934). Eng. composer. Fourth of 14 children of a Ger. couple who had settled in Eng. to engage in the wool trade. The father, Julius Delius, was a mus. lover, helping to organize Hallé concerts in Bradford and entertaining musicians like Joachim and Piatti in his home, but implacably opposed to mus. as a career for his son, despite Fritz's talent and aptitude. The youth tried to accede to his father's wishes by entering business, but he had no gift for textile commerce and in 1884 went to Florida to manage an orange-plantation at Solana Grove. The oranges were neglected while Delius studied mus. with Thomas F. Ward, a Jacksonville organist. A year later he himself set up as a vn. teacher first in Jacksonville, then at Danville, Virginia, eventually taking an organist's post in NY. The Negro melodies he heard in Florida deeply influenced him, as can be heard in Appalachia. By now his father was prepared to allow him to enter the Leipzig Cons. (1886). Academic tuition held no attractions, however, and Delius went to live in the Paris of the 90s where his circle incl. Gauguin, Ravel, Munch, and Strindberg. Already, on a holiday in Norway in 1887, he had become a close friend of Grieg and deeply attached to Scandinavian life and literature.

His Florida suite was perf. privately in Leipzig, 1888. While in Paris he comp. his first opera, Irmelin (1890–1, f.p. Oxford 1953). This was followed by The Magic Fountain (1894–5, f.p. BBC studio broadcast 1977), songs, the first Vn. Sonata, the tone-poem Over the Hills and Far Away (begun c.1893), and another opera, Koanga (1896–7). In 1899 a concert of his works was given in London which encouraged him to complete his orch. nocturne Paris: the Song of a Great City. This was perf. at Elberfeld, 1901, cond. by Hans Haym and a year later in Berlin under Busoni. Haym also cond. f.p. of the Pf. Conc., in Elberfeld 1904, with Julius Buths as soloist. Haym, together with Fritz Cassirer, was Delius's earliest champion, being followed some years later in England by Wood and, in particular, Beecham. Until about 1904 Delius pubd. his works under the name Fritz Delius.

From 1897, Delius lived at Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau, with the artist Jelka Rosen, whom he married in 1903. From 1899 to 1902 he worked on 2 operas, A Village Romeo and Juliet, and Margot-la-Rouge, and revised Appalachia (begun c.1896). His reputation in Ger. was greater at this time than in his native land but the balance was corrected from 1907 with in England of a series of works: 1907: pf. conc. (London, soloist Szanto, cond. Wood); 1908: Paris (Liverpool, cond. Beecham), Life's Dance (first version) (London, cond. Arbós), Brigg Fair (Liverpool, cond. Bantock), Sea Drift (Sheffield, cond. Wood); 1909: A Mass of Life (London, cond. Beecham), In a Summer Garden (first version) (London, cond. Delius), Dance Rhapsody No.1 (Hereford, cond. Delius).

In 1908–10 he comp. his last opera Fennimore and Gerda, prod. Frankfurt 1919. During the 1914–18 war he left Grez for Eng. for a time, composing Dance Rhapsody No.2, vn. sonata, vc. sonata, conc. for vn. and vc., str. qt., vn. conc., Eventyr, and a Requiem (text by H. Simon) ‘dedicated to the memory of all young artists fallen in the war’. This last work was perf. in 1922 and was so savagely criticized for its ‘atheism’ that it remained unperf. again for over 40 years. Shortly after the war he wrote a vc. conc. and the incidental mus. to Flecker's play Hassan (1923). In 1922 Delius developed the first signs of progressive paralysis, said to have resulted from syphilis contracted in Paris in 1890s, or even perhaps in Florida. Four years later he became blind and helpless. From 1928 he was enabled to continue composing through the assistance of a young Yorkshire musician, Eric Fenby, who offered his services as amanuensis. Among the works comp. in this period were A Song of Summer, the 3rd vn. sonata, Songs of Farewell, Fantastic Dance, and an Idyll based on material from Margot-la-Rouge. In 1929 Delius was made a CH and went to London to attend a fest. of 6 concerts of his mus. organized by Beecham. He died 5 years later, being buried at Grez, but in May 1935 was reinterred at Limpsfield, Surrey.

Delius's mus. is chromatic in harmony and belongs in form and spirit to the post-Wagnerian world of Chausson, Debussy, Strauss, and Mahler. He is par excellence the composer-poet of regret for time past, of the transience of human love, but there is also a vigorous ecstatic elation in sections of A Mass of Life and the Song of the High Hills. Though he despised the classical procedures, his sonatas and concs. succeed because of the way in which he adapted his rhapsodic manner to suit his own version of sonata form. The exquisite orch. scoring of such short works as On hearing the first cuckoo in spring and the intermezzo, Walk to the Paradise Garden, from A Village Romeo and Juliet, have ensured him a regular place in the Eng. repertory, and his songs and unacc. choral works are also very fine. Prin. works: OPERAS: Irmelin (1890–2); The Magic Fountain (1894–5, rev. 1898); Koanga (1896–7, rev. 1898); A Village Romeo and Juliet (1899–1901); Margot-la-Rouge (1901–2); Fennimore and Gerda (1908–10).MELODRAMA: Paa Vidderne, speaker, orch. (poem by Ibsen, 1859–60, set to Ger. trans., Auf dem Hochgebirge, by L. Passarge). Comp. 1888.INCIDENTAL MUSIC: Folkeraadet (Parliament), play by G. Heiberg (1897); Hassan, play by James Elroy Flecker (1920–3).ORCH.: Florida Suite (1886–7, rev. 1889); Sleigh Ride; Marche Caprice (1888; Sleigh Ride orch. 1889, Marche Caprice rev. 1890); Summer Evening (1890); Paa Vidderne (On the Mountains), sym.-poem (1890–1, rev. 1892); Over the Hills and Far Away (?1893–?7); La Calinda (from Koanga, 1896–7, arr. Fenby 1938); Life's Dance (1899, rev. 1901 and 1912); Paris: the Song of a Great City (1899); Appalachia, American Rhapsody (1st vers. 1896. See VOICE(S) & ORCH.); Intermezzo: Walk to the Paradise Garden (1906, addition to A Village Romeo and Juliet); Brigg Fair: an English Rhapsody (1907); In a Summer Garden (1908, rev. 1913); Dance Rhapsody No.1 (1908), No.2 (1916); 2 Mood Pictures for small orch.: On hearing the first cuckoo in spring (1911–13), Summer Night on the River (1911); North Country Sketches (1913–14); Air and Dance, str. (1915); Eventyr (1917); 2 Aquarelles (arr. for str. by Fenby, 1938, from 2 unacc. ch. 1917); A Song before Sunrise (1918); A Song of Summer (1930); Fantastic Dance (1931); Irmelin Prelude (1931).CONCERTOS: pf. (1st version in 3 movts. 1897, rev. 1898; rev. in 1 movt. 1906–7); vn. and vc. (1915, f.p. 1920, arr. for vn. and va. by Tertis 1934–5); vn. (1916, f.p. 1919 Sammons, Boult); vc. (1921, f.p. 1923 Frankfurt); Caprice and Elegy, vc., chamber orch. (1930, also for vc. and pf. or va. and pf. 1931); Suite (incl. Pastorale), vn., orch. (1888); Légende, vn., orch. (1895).VOICE(S) & ORCH.: Maud (Tennyson), song cycle, v., orch. (1891); Zarathustra's Night Song, bar., male ch., orch. (1898); Appalachia, ch., bar., orch. (1902–3); Sea Drift, bar., ch., orch. (1903–4); A Mass of Life, SATB soloists, double ch., orch. (1904–5); Cynara, bar., orch. (1907, rev. 1928–9); Songs of Sunset, mez., bar., ch., orch. (1906–8); Song of the High Hills, ch., orch. (1911); Arabesk, bar., ch., orch. (1911); Requiem, sop., bar., ch., orch. (1913–16); A Late Lark (Henley), v., orch. (1921–5); Songs of Farewell, double ch., orch. (1930); Idyll: Once I passed through a populous city, sop., bar., orch. (1930–2).VOICE(S) & PIANO: 5 Songs from the Norwegian (1888); 7 Songs from the Norwegian (1889–90, No. 3 with Eng. words, 1930, known as Twilight Fancies); 3 English Songs ( Shelley) (1891); 2 Songs ( Verlaine) (1895); 7 Danish Songs (1897); 5 Songs (4 to poems by Nietzsche) (1898); 2 Songs (1900); Summer Landscape (1902); The nightingale has a lyre of gold ( Henley) (1910); I-Brasil (1913); On Craig Dhu (1907); Midsummer Song (1908); Wanderer's Song (1908); To be sung of a summer night on the water (unacc.) (1917, arr. for str. by Fenby as 2 Aquarelles, 1938); The Splendour Falls (unacc.) (1923).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qt. (1916, scherzo added 1919, incorp. themes from abandoned 1888 str. qt. 3rd movt., Late Swallows, arr. for str. by Fenby 1963, other 3 movts. 1977 with title Sonata for Strings); vn. sonata (1892, unpubd.), No.1 (1905–14, f.p. 1915), No.2 (f.p. 1924, arr. for va. by Tertis), No.3 (1930, arr. for va. by Tertis); vc. sonata (1916).PIANO: Zum Carnival (1886); 3 Preludes (1923); 5 Pieces (1923).