English composer Roger Quilter remains known primarily for his distinguished art song output, although he also produced choral, instrumental, and stage works. He had to work hard at composition, for it never came naturally, but his output shows a composer with exceptional sensitivity and seemingly effortless grace. Indeed, he was a fan of light and graceful music, from Schubert to Maude Valérie White to Gershwin. Quilter never had to make a living, but he was a philanthropic artist, helping to found and administer the Musicians' Benevolent Fund, as well as privately aiding his colleagues. After a productive and benevolent artistic life, Quilter experienced a period of mental decline that ended with his death.
Quilter was educated at prestigious Eton College, later going abroad to Germany to study with Ivan Knorr at Frankfurt's Hoch Conservatory. All students in Frankfurt in the 1890s, Percy Grainger, Cyril Scott, Norman O'Neill, Balfour Gardiner, and Quilter became known as the "Frankfurt Group." As a song composer, Quilter became well established in 1900 when Denham Price gave a performance of his Songs of the Sea at the Crystal Palace in London, and also when tenor Gervase Elwes premiered To Julia in 1905 and Seven Elizabethan Lyrics in 1908. On occasion Quilter would accompany his songs in public performance, and he did record many of them with close friend and colleague Mark Raphael.
His only attempt at opera, Julia (1936), was a failure, but several pieces from it were extracted and published as separate songs (e.g., Love at the Inn). His light orchestral music was more successful, including A Children's Overture (1919), written for the Promenade Concerts and conducted by Henry Wood. That work and Quilter's popular incidental music for the fairy play Where the Rainbow Ends (1911) were both inspired by Walter Crane's illustrated book of nursery rhymes, Baby's Opera. Still, it is his songs (more than 100 of them) upon which Quilter's reputation was based, and for which he will continued to be remembered quite fondly.