The young Delius, left, remembered favourably
The backstory of Frederick Delius sounds a lot like most of my friends who went into music: the family encouraged him to work in commerce, in the family business; he kept resisting those attempts; was sent away to several countries in Europe to oversee a business; neglected those duties and kept going out to concerts to absorb as much live music as possible. This was the pattern, and though his family continued to encourage him to be a part of the family’s wool business, he continued to duck out to the music hot spots, and hang out with the composers, playwrights – basically any creative people. Exasperated, his father sent him to Florida to oversee an orange plantation. Of course, Delius found a music theory and composition teacher and ignored the oranges.
While in Florida, Delius heard spirituals for the first time, sung by the waiters in local hotels and by the deckhands working on nearby ships. He never forgot the melodies he heard, day and night whenever a ship went by, and he was inspired by them. While in the States, he taught music and a few of his works were performed – finally, he was able to live as a composer before finally settling in Paris, where he spent most of his productive years.
Born to German immigrant parents of Dutch origin, Delius “should” have been interested in the music of Mozart and Beethoven, but he favoured Chopin and Grieg all his life. Grieg was a major influence and a champion of Delius, who convinced his father to please let him pursue music, declaring him “a poet and a visionary” – high praise from such a gifted melodist as Grieg.
Have a listen to Sea Drift (1903), for voices and orchestra, based on Walt Whitman’s poetry. This clip features the charismatic baritone Bryn Terfel. This work reveals Delius’ sensitivity to nature. He had an admirer in conductor Thomas Beecham, who said “Delius is the last great apostle of romance, emotion, and beauty in music.”
Delius was born January 29, 1862 in Yorkshire, England, and died June 10, 1934 in Graz, France.