Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the rapid advance of the German army toward the River Marne forced Frederick Delius and his wife to evacuate to Orléans, where the composer was deeply moved by the sight of wounded servicemen and other refugees. Though they returned to their original hometown of Grez fleetingly as the German line was repelled, the conductor Thomas Beecham persuaded them to travel to England in November, where the Deliuses stayed for the next 9 months.
Rather than languishing in exile, Delius embraced the opportunity to hear music being performed both in London and elsewhere in the country. And it was the experience of this new music that Delius evidently carried with him when he returned to France permanently in late November 1915, one of the immediate results of which was his String Quartet of 1916. Delius began to write his Quartet in the spring, completing the first version of the work in June.
It received its first performance by the London String Quartet at the Aeolian Hall on 17 November 1916, and was warmly received. The Musical Times wrote of ‘a serious contribution to musical art—the most important, in fact, that has been heard in London during the present season.' Delius was nevertheless dissatisfied with the score, and revised it the following year, reworking the outer movements, adding a scherzo (drawing on material from an earlier abandoned quartet written in 1888), and completely recomposing the slow movement, ‘Late Swallows’. It is in this form that the work entered the repertoire.
This manuscript shows the movement in its original, unpublished version.