The works of Frederick Delius
The works of Frederick Delius were the subject of the Society’s evening on April 24th and we were delighted to welcome Martin Lee-Browne, the ex-president of the Delius Society. This was an informed presentation – not just because Martin knew a great deal about this composer – but because of the family connections he has with him. His grandfather was a good friend to Delius and also taught Sir Thomas Beecham the famous conductor. It was Beecham who did so much to promote the composer.
Delius’s father was a wool merchant and wanted his son to go into the business which he did for about 2 years. His heart was not in it so he then persuaded his father to help set him up in the orange plantation business in Florida which he did for a couple of years. He then gave that up and moved to Danville in Virginia.
He studied music in Leipzig in 1886 but was unimpressed with the teaching there which he found old fashioned and apparently, they were not too impressed with him. He met and became friends with the Norwegian Composer Edvard Grieg and persuaded him to come to England to meet his father. Norway was a big influence on his work and the Song of the High Hills is based on his time there. Beecham described this as one of the composer’s major works.
His father was so impressed that his son knew someone as famous as Grieg that he continued funding his musical activities for another year. This he spent living in Montparnasse in Paris. He struggled to make a living there as a composer. By 1899 he had managed to get only 20 songs published.
He returned to England and self-funded a concert of his own works which had mixed success but began to get him recognised as a serious composer. Gradually his pieces entered the repertoire. Martin played several of his works – including some early compositions which one would not at first sight have realised were by him – as well as selections from his more famous and familiar works. These included Brigg Fair, the single movement Violin Concerto and Sea Drift, the latter strongly influenced by Walt Whitman.
Martin also brought along some memorabilia included a score annotated in the margin by Percy Grainger. In 1910 his health seriously declined and he was only able to compose with the aid of Eric Fenby who wrote the music to Delius’s direction. He lived for most of his life in Grez-sur-Loing in France and he is buried with his wife in Limpsfield in Surrey.