For many music lovers, the end of January brings to mind two birthdays: Mozart’s on the 27th, and Schubert’s on the 31st. Could a composer born between these two giants, end up being overlooked? Perhaps. It was while preparing my blog about the Viking Opera Guide (BRM29585) that I learned that the 29th of January is the birthday of Frederick Delius.
Born in Yorkshire, England in 1862, Delius studied piano and violin. But, as often happens with young musicians, he soon learned that his father had other plans. In 1884, he was sent to Florida to manage an orange plantation; he spent all of his time studying and teaching music (while the oranges withered away). Some of the African-American melodies he heard eventually found their way into his Florida Suite and Appalachia.
In 1886 his father relented, and allowed him to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. During this time he became acquainted with the music of Wagner, Sinding and Grieg.
Eventually Delius married the German artist Jelka Rosen, and they settled near Fontainebleau. There he composed many orchestral, choral and chamber works, using an impressionistic style based on post-Wagnerian harmonies.
By 1925 Delius was blind and nearly paralyzed, but with the assistance of a young composer named Eric Fenby, he was able to complete several compositions before his death in 1934.
Following are a few Delius titles from our braille collection:
Air and Dance, arranged for piano by Eric Fenby (BRM02836 or BRM12635)
Five Lieder for High Voice and Piano (BRM01219)
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring [a favorite of my wife Lisa and mine] (BRM32515). It is also in Enjoying Music, by Roy Bennett (BRM28339). In both books this piece for small orchestra is arranged for piano.
Three Preludes for Piano (BRM06083)
And what about opera? The Viking Book of Opera’s article on Delius includes information on Irmelin (1890-92), Magic Fountain (1894-95), Koanga (1895-97), as well as A Village Romeo and Juliet (1899-1901). A two-piano arrangement of “La Calinda” from Koanga may be found at BRM22294. This list of stage works suggests that there is much music by Delius waiting to be discovered.