Friday, January 25, 2008

Gerald Finzi

I don’t know much of Gerald Finzi’s music; my first contact with it, as far as I recall, was at a Music School back in the early 60s when someone from Christchurch sang a group of songs with string accompaniment. But his music has a particular appeal for singers, and I’ve accompanied some who’ve sang his songs.
I was interested in the following passage from Diana McVeagh’s biography. I tend to write songs by starting at the first line and finding the music as it comes. And it’s intriguing to hear of both Finzi and Vaughan Williams struggling at the piano. You have this picture in your head of great composers being very adept at the piano, and probably several other instruments as well.

"Finzi probably never set out to compose a song; but wen he read a poem, one line – often the first – would call up music unbidden. John Russell, visiting, found Finzi reading a Vaughan poem. ‘He looked up, smiled, and by way of humorous greeting, sang, and at once wrote down, ‘O rose of Sharon! O lily of the valley! How are thou now’ – the last lines but the prime musical motif of ‘Welcome Sweet and Sacred Feast.
He liked then to have the poem typed, and crossed out each line as he set it. once the starting line of a melody had come, he composed more or less continuously at the piano, as if the sound itself was a generating force. He was not a good pianist – not even a respectable one, according to John Sumsion, who occasionally helped him to shape the piano parts - ‘ you’ll get the same result if you do it this way, and it’s twice as easy.’ Hearing him play, Cedric Thorpe Davie was reminded ‘of RVW, struggling and fumbling.’ Some of Finzi’s closest friends never heard him sing; some who did described his voice as a bari-tenor.’ Others called it a growl! Yet his songs are a singer’s delight, they are so vocal. They are never dedicated to performers, and he never composed ‘on’ a known voice. He had no Rubini, Bernac, Pears. I his early days he gave scarcely any directions – dynamics or phrasing – saying ‘any musical person would know how it should go.’ When he began conducting, he realised how much performers’ time that wasted. "

Page 175 2005 edition of Gerald Finzi; his life and music, by Diana McVeagh.
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