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Quilter was born in Hove, Sussex;  a commemorative blue plaque is on the house at 4 Brunswick Square. He was a younger son of Sir William Quilter, 1st Baronet, a wealthy noted landowner, politician and art collector.
Roger Quilter was educated first in the preparatory school at Farnborough. He then moved to Eton College and later became a fellow-student of Percy Grainger, Cyril Scott and H. Balfour Gardiner at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where he studied for almost five years under the guidance of the German professor of composition Iwan Knorr. Quilter belonged to the Frankfurt Group, a circle of composers who studied at the Hoch Conservatory in the late 1890s.
His reputation in England rests largely on his songs and on his light music for orchestra, such as his Children's Overture, with its interwoven nursery rhyme tunes, and a suite of music for the play Where the Rainbow Ends. He is noted as an influence on several English composers, including Peter Warlock.
Quilter enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with the tenor Gervase Elwes until the latter's death in 1921. In November 1936, Quilter's opera Julia was presented at Covent Garden by the British Music Drama Opera Company under the direction of Vladimir Rosing.
As a homosexual, he found it difficult to cope with some of the pressures which he felt were imposed upon him, and eventually deteriorated into mental illness after the loss of his nephew Arnold Guy Vivian during the Second World War.
Roger Quilter's output of songs, more than one hundred in total, added to the canon of English art song that is still sung today. Among the most popular are "Love's Philosophy", "Fair House of Joy", "Come Away Death", "Go, Lovely Rose", "Weep You No More", "By the Sea", and his setting of "O Mistress Mine". Quilter's setting of verses from the Tennyson poem "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal" is one of his earliest songs but is nonetheless characteristic of the later, mature style.
He also published the Arnold Book of Old Songs, a collection of 16 folk and traditional songs to new accompaniments, dedicated to his nephew Arnold Guy Vivian.
- Four Songs of the Sea
- Three Studies for Piano, Op. 4 (1910)
- Where the Rainbow Ends (incidental music) (1911)
- Love at the Inn (opera)
- Five English Love Lyrics
- A Children's Overture (1914)
- Five Jacobean Lyrics
- To Julia, Op. 8 (texts of Robert Herrick) (1905)
- The Fuschia Tree, Op. 25 No. 2 (1923)
- Three Pastoral Songs, Op. 22
- Seven Elizabethan Lyrics, Op. 12
- Three Shakespeare Songs, Op. 6
- Three English Dances, Op. 11
- Arnold Book of Old Songs (1921, 1942, pub. 1950)
- Five Shakespeare Songs, Op. 23
- Middleton, Judy (2001). Brunswick Town.
- Hove, Portslade and Brighton in the Past
- Hold, Trevor,"Roger Quilter - Volume 1". Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2007-01-23. , Jeffrey Benton's Art Song and Lieder Page - Access date: 6 June 2012[dead link]
- "Grove Music Online Quilter, Roger". Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- Langfield, Valerie (2004). "Roger Quilter 1877-1953: His Life, Times and Music". University of Birmingham.
- Smythe, David K.,The Fuschia Tree, The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, Access date: 6 June 2012