English composer. His haunting, richly harmonious works include the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1901); the choral pieces Appalachia (1903), Sea Drift (1904), and A Mass of Life (1905); orchestral works such as In a Summer Garden (1908) and A Song of the High Hills (1911); chamber music; and songs.
Delius was born in Bradford. His father was a well-to-do businessman and wished him to follow a commercial career, but music was cultivated in the home and Delius worked steadily at music by himself, although he had little proper musical education. In 1884 he went to Florida, USA, as an orange planter and came under the influence of Thomas Ward, organist at Jacksonville. In 1886, after some teaching in the USA, he went to the Leipzig Conservatory, Germany, for a short time, but did not like its conservative teaching. While there, he met the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who influenced Delius's romantic style of composition and persuaded his father to allow him to devote himself to composition. From 1889 Delius lived in France, mainly in Paris, and in 1897 he settled at Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau, with the German painter Jelka Rosen, whom he later married. A concert of his works was given in London in 1899 and he became known in both the UK and Germany. His early influences include Richard Wagner, Eduard Grieg, and Claude Debussy, but he found his own voice in Koanga (1904), Paris: Song of a Great City (1899), and A Village Romeo and Juliet (1901). From 1907 important first performances were given in England: Thomas Beecham conducted Paris in 1908 and A Mass of Life in 1909, and Henry Wood conducted Sea Drift in 1908. He contracted syphilis and in 1922 was attacked by paralysis, which gradually increased until, four years later, he was helpless and totally blind. However, he continued to compose with the assistance of Eric Fenby, to whom he dictated his music from 1928.
WorksOperaA Village Romeo and Juliet (1901; produced 1907), Fennimore and Gerda (1919).
Choral with orchestraSea Drift (1904), A Mass of Life (1905), A Song of the High Hills (1911).
OrchestralParis: Song of a Great City (1899), Brigg Fair (1907), In a Summer Garden (1908), On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1911), Summer Night on the River (1913), North Country Sketches (1913–14), Eventyr (after Asbjørnsen's fairy-tales; 1917); concertos for piano, violin, cello and violin and cello (1897, 1915, 1916, 1921).
Other chamber music: three violin and piano sonatas, cello sonatas, string quartet.