British composer of German parentage. He was created CH in 1929.
Born in Bradford, the son of a successful naturalized wool merchant, Delius was persuaded to enter his father's business and spent some time selling wool in Europe before emigrating to Florida (1884), where he became an orange planter. During this period he decided to devote himself to music, returning to Europe in 1886 to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. A meeting with Grieg at that time undoubtedly influenced his decision. He later settled in Grez-sur-Loing, south of Paris, with his artist wife, Jelka Rosen. In 1928, after Delius had become blind and paralysed, a young English musician, Eric Fenby (1906–97), became his amanuensis and enabled him to continue composing.
Delius forged his own unique style, his empathy with nature being a source of inspiration in many of his works. The opera Koanga (1895–97) reflects his experiences in Florida, while the variations for chorus and orchestra Appalachia (1902) owes its spirit to the American forests and mountains. The tone poem Over the Hills and Far Away (1895) was inspired by his native Yorkshire, and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) and other tone poems by his garden at Grez. Other works of importance are the tone poem Nocturne, Paris: The Song of a Great City (1899), the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900–01) to his own libretto based on a novel by Keller, Sea Drift (1903) for baritone, chorus, and orchestra to a poem by Walt Whitman, and A Mass of Life (1904–05) for soloists, chorus, and orchestra to words of Nietzsche. His concertos (one for violin, one for cello, and one double concerto for violin and cello) owe little to traditional forms and are orchestrally less impressive. Recognition came first in Germany, but Sir Thomas Beecham was his tireless advocate in England. Thanks to Beecham a six-day Delius Festival was held at the Queen's Hall in 1929 in the presence of the blind composer.