Obituary: Eric Fenby

Although he was a successful teacher and the composer of much music, mainly for chamber groups, Eric Fenby's name will always be associated with that of Frederick Delius.

An admirer of his work, he approached Delius in 1928 at a time when the composer, after years of illness, was almost entirely paralysed and blind; his mind was perfectly clear, but he was unable to sit at a piano or use a pen, and had been forced to give up composition. He was dependent on his wife for his most basic physical needs. Fenby, then 22, offered his services as amanuensis and to his surprise, but to his delight, the offer was accepted. The young Yorkshire musician journeyed to Delius's home at Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau, in October that year and remained with Delius until his death in 1934.

In spite of his German name and parentage, Delius was a fellow Yorkshireman, born in Bradford. It was the Yorkshire connection as much as his admiration for Delius's music that inspired Fenby to put himself totally at Delius's service. Fenby himself came from a warm, close and loving Scarborough family, and his parents and siblings were all musical. His sister Ann became a successful singer, first in concerts and later musical comedies. Eric studied music, sometimes formally with private instruction, but to a great extent he was self-taught. He began early to compose, his first works being performed at local promenade concerts. He then cut short his own budding career to become the vehicle through which Delius was able once again to return to composition.

He was first asked to make a transcription for two pianos of the previously unperformed "A Poem of Life and Love" so that the composer could hear it played by Fenby and a visiting friend. This worked so well and pleased Delius so much that Fenby then devised a method by which Delius could dictate notation to him, and in this way a new late period of his composition became possible. Most of the works thus produced were introduced to the public by Thomas Beecham, who had long championed Delius's music, and by the young Malcolm Sargent.

This, together with the poignant story of his illness, created a new interest in the music of a composer who, although widely respected abroad and by musicians at home, had never had much success with the British public. As a result Delius was made a Companion of Honour in 1929 by George V, who was not known for his musicality, mainly as the result of Delius's new reputation and the sympathy of the public, who now saw him as a tragic genius. In the same year Beecham staged an important six-day festival in London devoted to Delius's music, in which Fenby took an active part. He travelled from Grez to London with the Deliuses and helped the composer to communicate with well-wishers, performers and the press. Delius sat through the performances in a bath-chair in full view of the audience.

When Delius died in 1934 Fenby returned to London, where he became Music Adviser to Boosey and Hawkes. He continued his own career and began to teach, becoming Music Director at the North Riding College of Education in 1948, and eventually, in 1964, Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music, where he remained until 1977. But his professional life remained inextricably involved with the music and the posthumous reputation of the dead composer. In Delius As I Knew Him (1936), he recounted the story of their relationship. He also contributed a Delius biography to the "Great Composers" series, published in 1971, recorded the three violin sonatas with Ralph Holmes and Yehudi Menuhin, playing the piano part himself, and through his advocacy was responsible, usually with the assistance and participation of Beecham, for a considerable increase in the number of available Delius recordings.

When Ken Russell decided to film the life of Delius as one of his controversial television documentaries on composers, Fenby was asked to write the script in collaboration with the producer. The result, A Song of Summer (1968), was repeatedly shown in Britain and elsewhere. Objections were made to Russell's expressionistic, often shocking and savage, treatment of composers, but not to the Delius film, which had a haunting gentle quality, the result of Fenby's compassionate script.

Eric Fenby was active on musical committees, a founder of the Delius Society, of which he became the president in 1964, and he served as a council member of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain, and its chairman in 1968. He was a fluent talker and lecturer, and as a teacher was known for his kindness and helpfulness to students and young musicians. A Festschrift Delius Companion was published as a tribute to him on his 70th birthday.

Eric William Fenby, musicologist, composer and teacher: born Scarborough 22 April 1906; Music Adviser, Boosey and Hawkes 1936-39; Music Director, North Riding College of Education 1948-62; Artistic Director, Delius Centenary Festival 1962; OBE 1962; Professor of Harmony, Royal Academy of Music 1964-77; President, Delius Society 1964-97; married 1944 Rowena Marshall (one son, one daughter); died Scarborough 18 February 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Anna Smaill’s debut novel, The Chimes, is a fusion of fantasy and romance
booksMan Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Sport
Ji So-Yun scores the only goal of the game
sport
Arts and Entertainment
One of the Pyongyang posters, the slogan of which reads: ‘Let the exploits of the northern railway conductors shine!’
art
Life and Style
Linguine with mussels and fresh tomatoes
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer