“But the work really popped with the entrance of the Singers in the ‘Ode to Joy’ finale. At that point there were about 200 musicians making a glorious noise on the Vets stage”
Channing Gray
Providence Journal
8 May 2016
(Beethoven’s Ninth)



 






Gerald Finzi
Gerald Raphael Finzi (1901–1956)
Among the most characteristically “English” composers of his generation
Credit: Angus McBean

Gerald Raphael Finzi

My Spirit Sang All Day  (1937)
God Is Gone Up  (1951)

“The artist is like the coral insect, building his reef out of the transitory world around him and making a solid structure to last long after his fragile and uncertain life ...” — Gerald Finzi

Though his music was widely admired, Gerald Finzi did not achieve broad recognition among the best-known composers of his generation. He lived and worked mostly in the English countryside, and his career was cut short. He died at age 55 of Hodgkin’s disease and complications.

Finzi was devoted to English poetry and is best known for his song cycles, particularly settings of verse by Thomas Hardy. (His first published work, By Footpath and Stile (1922), set texts by Hardy for baritone and string quartet.) His poetry library, built with his wife, the artist Joyce Black, grew to more than 3,000 volumes. (Joyce, called Joy, is likely a parallel presence in My Spirit Sang All Day — “’Tis thee: Thou art my joy.”)

Born in London to Jewish parents of German and Italian descent, Finzi was agnostic in his adult life, a trait he had in common with other British composers including Herbert Howells and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Like Howells and Vaughan Williams, Finzi wrote sacred as well as secular music. His work includes more than 100 settings for solo voice or choir.

As a young man, Finzi was in London (1926–33), where he got to know Gustav Holst, Arthur Bliss, Edmund Rubbra, Howard Fergusson, and Vaughan Williams, who conducted Finzi’s Violin Concerto in 1928. Vaughan Williams helped Finzi secure a teaching appointment at the Royal Academy of Music in 1930, a post Finzi left after his marriage. Finzi and Black left London for Aldbourne in Berkshire in 1933, later to Ashmansworth Farm in Wiltshire, where he devoted himself to composing and apple-growing, saving a number of rare English apple varieties from extinction.

In addition to his composing, Finzi and Black worked to catalogue and advance the work of other composers, including Ivor Gurney, Hubert Parry, and the overtures of William Boyce. An all-Finzi concert in the Royal Festival Hall in 1954 acknowledged his standing in Britain’s musical life, and a commission from Sir John Barbirolli for the 1955 Cheltenham Festival brought the Cello Concerto, Finzi’s most ambitious purely instrumental work.


My Spirit Sang All Day
Text by Robert Bridges (1844–1930)

My spirit sang all day
O my joy.
Nothing my tongue could say,
Only My joy!
My heart an echo caught
O my joy
And spake,
Tell me thy thought,
Hide not thy joy.
My eyes gan peer around,
O my joy
What beauty hast thou found?
Shew us thy joy.
My jealous ears grew whist;
O my joy
Music from heaven is’t,
Sent for our joy?
She also came and heard;
O my joy,
What, said she, is this word?
What is thy joy?
And I replied,
O see, O my joy,
’Tis thee, I cried, ’tis thee:
Thou art my joy.

God Is Gone Up
Text by Edward Taylor (1646–1749)

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding Trumpets' melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.

Methinks I see Heaven's sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev'ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.