Frederick Delius was born on this day in Yorkshire, England, in 1862. At 24, he lived the classic story of breaking away from the family business - wool, no less - to pursue a love for the arts, in this case, music. The break was interesting for it took him first to Solano Grove and an orange plantation on the banks of the St. Johns River south of Jacksonville, Florida. Later, he would teach music in Danville, Virginia, before returning to Europe for formal education in Germany. He took the sounds of American culture with him. In 1888, he settled in Paris, later married the painter, Jelka Rosen, and devoted his life to composition.
In the last sixteen years of his life he was tortured by the pain of a slow death from syphilis contracted during his early years in Paris. In the four years before his death in 1934, he was blind and essentially paralyzed from the neck down. He composed and completed some of his most significant work during this period, all of it reaching paper through the notations of his loyal amanuensis, Eric Fenby.
In 1968, Ken Russell directed a biography of Frederick Delius for the BBC. OTR saw the program by chance in its U.S. premier during the summer of the following year. He was in full cultural rebellion against the West at the time, but the unique lyric quality of this English composer's music was like a magnet. There was no escape from the compelling soundscapes with such rich, complex imagery and depth.
OTR would outgrow his bitterness over the lost decade (1964-74) of the Johnson-Nixon years, but he never outgrew his fondness for the music of Delius. Today, he's pleased to report a wave of renewed international interest in that music in the last twenty years. In fact, the Delius recording catalog has never been larger in spite of the music being some of the most difficult to realize in performance.
This post opened with Song of Summer, written in 1930 when Delius was blind and paralyzed. To conclude, here are two earlier compositions. The first is from the Florida Suite, written when he was twenty years old. Music historians agree that this piece represents the first use of black American folk idioms in classical form by a European composer. He also composed the first black opera, Koanga. (George Gershwin is most often erroneously credited with this accomplishment, but his opera, Porgy and Bess, premiered fifty years later.) Delius influenced a number of popular music composers well into the 20th century.
Duke Ellington composed In A Blue Summer Garden as a tribute to Delius. And here is the work that inspired Ellington to honor one of the most lyrical composers in western music.
Music is a cry of the soul. It is addressed and should appeal instantly to the soul of the listener. It is a revelation, a thing to be reverenced.Frederick Delius
Photo: Portrait of Frederick Delius by his wife, Jelka Rosen.
The Delius Society
Before the Champions: Frederick Delius' Florida Suite for Orchestra, Mary E. Greene., M.A. Thesis, University of Miami, 2011
Radio Swiss Classic, Frederick Delius
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Frederick Delius
This is a revision of an earlier post from 2012.