Jelka Rosen

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Jelka Rosen with husband Frederick Delius in 1929

Jelka Rosen (30 December 1868 – 28 May 1935) was a German painter, best known as the wife of the English composer Frederick Delius.

Life and work[edit]

Helena Sophie Emilie Rosen, known as Jelka, was born in Belgrade in 1868. Her father was the German Consul-General there, but his career had been as an academic in the field of linguistics. Her mother was a painter, and the daughter of the composer and pianist Ignaz Moscheles. She was her parents' youngest child.[1]

Jelka Rosen studied art from 1892 at the Académie Colarossi in Paris, accompanied by her newly widowed mother.[1] She exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. She met Frederick Delius at a dinner party on 16 January 1896,[1] and found they had a shared interest in the writings of Nietzsche and the music of Grieg. In 1897, on his return from Florida, he moved into her Grez-sur-Loing house, owned by her and her mother, and they married in September 1903. She was heiress to a modest fortune from her distinguished Schleswig-Holstein family[2] and her wealth gave Delius financial security.

Through her parental heritage, Jelka was widely read and spoke a number of languages, and it was she who often suggested texts her husband could set to music. She identified the works of Ernest Dowson for his Songs of Sunset, and Walt Whitman for Songs of Farewell. Her German translations of these texts were often published along with the music. Her artistic skills were also invaluable in sketching designs for the scenery in Beecham's 1920 revival of A Village Romeo and Juliet. Her own artwork appeared on the vocal score to Fennimore and Gerda.[1]

The grave of Frederick and Jelka Delius at St Peter's Church in Limpsfield, Surrey, England

She remained devoted to Delius despite his affairs with other women. In the last twelve years of Delius's life, after he became blind and paralysed with third-stage syphilis, she gave up her work to be his carer. She herself became ill with bowel cancer, and made it known that outside help would be welcome. This led to Eric Fenby offering his services to the composer as an amanuensis, but he often served as Delius's personal nurse. Fenby worked with Delius for six years, during which time Jelka had intermittent absences for medical treatment. She returned from a nursing home to be at Delius's side when he died in June 1934. Delius had wished to be buried in the garden of their home at Grez-sur-Loing, or failing that, in England. The local authorities would not permit a garden burial, and Jelka was too ill to travel, so Delius was buried in the local cemetery at Grez.

In May 1935, although she had not recovered fully, she felt she had enough strength to undertake the Channel crossing to attend his reinterment in the churchyard of the Church of Saint Peter, Limpsfield, Surrey. However, en route she contracted pneumonia and was hospitalised in Dover on arrival in England. She was then transferred to a hospital in Kensington, London, where she died on 28 May 1935, two days after her husband's reburial. She was buried with him: they share the same grave. Her estate funded a trust, managed by Sir Thomas Beecham, to promote the works of Delius. Beecham is now buried a short distance away.

Jelka Rosen was portrayed by the British actress Maureen Pryor in the 1968 Ken Russell film Song of Summer.



  • Mrs. Delius, Obituaries, The Times, Wednesday, May 29, 1935
  • Diana McVeagh, "Delius, Frederick Theodor Albert (1862–1934)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 subscription required, accessed 14 June 2007

External links[edit]