Frederick Delius

On this date in 1862, composer Fritz Theodor Albert Delius was born in England to parents who had migrated from Germany. In 1884, he moved to Florida to cultivate oranges and absorbed the sounds of the singing plantation workers, which were to be documented in his Florida Suite. Fritz studied at the Leipzig Conservatorium then moved to Paris. He soon moved on from songs and small-scale instrumental and orchestral pieces to produce the operas Irmelin, The Magic Fountain and Koanga, as well as larger orchestral works, Paa Viderne, Sakuntala, Maud, the symphonic poem "Life's Dance" and the nocturne "Paris." His inspiration derived from the literature of England, Norway, Denmark, Germany and France, medieval romance, North American Indians and African Americans, the Florida landscape and the Scandinavian mountainscape. His operatic masterpiece was A Village Romeo and Juliet, followed by Appalachia, Sea Drift and A Mass of Life. Then came Songs of Sunset, Brigg Fair, In a Summer Garden, two Dance Rhapsodies, Fennimore and Gerda, An Arabesque, The Song of the High Hills and from 1911/12 came the popular "On hearing the first cuckoo in spring" and "Summer night on the river." He produced many more concertos and orchestral/choral works.

Delius was a lifelong freethinker. He was "always ready to poke fun at the religious beliefs of his friends” (Grieg and Delius: A Chronicle of their Friendship in Letters, by Lionel Carley). In a letter to Edvard Grieg, Delius wrote: “I think the only improvement that Christ and Christianity have brought with them is Christmas. As people really then think a little about others. Otherwise I feel that he had better not have lived at all. The world has not got any better, but worse & more hypocritical, & I really believe that Christianity has produced an overall submediocrity & really only taught people the meaning of fear” (Carley). Close friend Eric Fenby wrote an intimate biography of Delius’s final years. “He had no faith in God,” Fenby wrote, “Nevertheless . . . my admiration for Delius’s music will in no wise have suffered thereby” (Delius As I Knew Him, by Eric Fenby, 1981). Fenby, a strong believer, often found himself a helpless punching bag for Delius’s criticisms of religion. "God? I don't know him. Given a young composer of genius,” Delius said, “the surest way to ruin him is to make a Christian of him.” He also commented: "In 1755 there was an earthquake in Lisbon. Thirty thousand people were destroyed in a few minutes! How do you reconcile your loving God who is supposed to mark the fall of every sparrow?" D. 1934.

“The sooner you get rid of all this Christian humbug the better. The whole traditional concept of life is false. Throw those great Christian blinkers away, and look around you and stand on your own feet . . . Don't believe all the tommyrot priests tell you; learn and prove everything by your own experience . . . One thing is certain — that English music will never be any good till they get rid of Jesus. Humanity is incredible. It will believe anything, anything to escape reality.”

—Delius As I Knew Him, by Eric Fenby (1936)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo in the Public Domain

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