Gerald Finzi

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Gerald Raphael Finzi (1901-1956) was an English composer. He is recognised as a leading exponent of the early to mid twentieth century English pastoral style, despite being of Italian-Jewish parentage – both Sephardic and Askenazim. London born, he grew up and studied there and elsewhere before, at the age of 32, moving to the country. In 1938 he settled with his artist wife on a farm, converted to suit their divers needs - which included Finzi’s interest in apple growing - in Hampshire.

He is known mainly for his songs – practically all to words by English poets. His cycle of Shakespeare songs; “Let us Garlands Bring” is a particular favourite. His greatest love, however, was the poetry of Thomas Hardy. He wrote dozens of settings, with 7 opus numbers, from as early as 1921 right up to his death – he usually had several “on the go” at any one time and a series of his late songs was collected and prepared for publication by his widow and son after he died.

His vocal proclivities extended to choral works, both sacred and secular, where his sympathetic treatment of the words are as evident as in his songs. On the secular side, a major work is “Ode to Intimations of Immortality”, a setting for tenor, choir and string orchestra of all but two parts of William Wordsworth’s great work of the same name. His best major sacred work – also usually for the same forces - is "Dies nativitas” (“Day of birth”.) Both these works, after decades of neglect, have enjoyed popularity, both “live” and on record, in recent years. He wrote many choral pieces – anthems and the like – for the annual and ancient “Three Choirs Festival” (he shares this distinction with some of the great choral composers of the age – Edward Elgar, Hubert Parry, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams – men who were major influences on his music).

His pastoral side is most evident in his orchestral music. The early “Severn Rhapsody” is about as bucolic as you can get without mooing; and as firm as Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth in its statement of time and place. He wrote, or attempted to write - some of his concertante works failed in their original forms – works for cello and piano with orchestra.

He is notable as a composer for the clarinet: as well as his “Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano (later orchestrated) he extended his love of the English lyric by transforming three soliloquies from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost” to short pieces for clarinet and orchestra. His “magnum opus” though, is possibly his Clarinet Concerto, considered one of the great concertos for that instrument of the twentieth century.

Links: Two songs from “Let us Garlands Bring” sung by a young Janet Baker, one of the great singers.