Baedekers and Benedictions: Finding Gurney

This article is based upon a talk given at a joint meeting of Finzi Friends and the Ivor Gurney Society, at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Chosen Hill, Churchdown, on 3rd June 2017.

Who is Ivor Gurney? — as an artist? Have we understood him? Indeed, how do we find and understand any creative artist? When can we say that we truly know who they are, what it was to which they were aspiring, and what drove and defined them and their art?

The perception of art is a subjective thing. We bring to it our own experiences and ideas; our own ways of reading, listening and looking. It has been said that there are as many versions of the truth of work as there are numbers of people who encounter it. But there are truths about an artist to which we might attempt to get close in our absorption and exploration of their work. To know, however, we must first be exposed to their work. But how do we get to find these works and get to know them? And how much of their work do we need to know in order to glean some essence of that truth?

The journey of a work begins with the artist. It is they who first endeavour to get their work out to an audience. As they send it out into the world, and as they talk to those who are performing, publishing, curating, or taking in that work, they may be able, in some small degree, to shape the perception of it, and of themselves. They are able to promote their work by actively seeking publishers or performers. In the case of Gerald Finzi, although his life was cut short in 1956, he was still able to spend three decades nurturing an audience for his work through active engagement with performers, promoters and commissioners, establishing his presence in the short to medium term. He was also fortuitous in finding a dedicated publisher for his works, Boosey & Hawkes. Following his death, his publisher continued to keep his work alive, keeping his music in print and in active promotion, whilst friends and family, most notably his wife, Joy, maintained the personal momentum that had been built up by Gerald. Importantly, Joy founded the Finzi Trust in 1969 to continue this work. The Trust, in collaboration with Boosey & Hawkes, has seen his work securely into this century, establishing it in the musical Canon for the long term. More interestingly and importantly, perhaps, the Trust has not only overseen the secure promotion of just his music: it has also sought to perpetuate some of the Finzis’broader values and ideas in encouraging other artists. Finzi Friends, as a daughter but independent organisation, has assisted with this, as well as allowing all those who admire Finzi’s work to come together under a mutual banner which maintains a lively and social interest in the Finzis and their work. Finzi has been fortunate indeed.

Where Finzi was able to spend those three decades in establishing himself personally amongst performers, publishers and promoters, Gurney had little more than three years in which to do so before he was cut off from the world. The biographical concerns of his life, from his discharge from Active Service in the First World War, in October 1918, to his incarceration in an asylum in 1922, left a too short time in which to be able to establish himself fully in the fraternities of poets and musicians. In that short time he did in fact make some remarkable progress: several songs and some piano works were published; and his songs began to be taken up by performers. However, upon his incarceration, this fell away. The stigma attached to the asylum was such that he was as good as dead. Indeed, in a letter to Vera Somerfield of 22 January 1923, Gerald Finzi wrote of,‘the most terrible news I have had for five years. Ivor Gurney has gone mad. He is quite unrecognised now, but in 50 years’ time his songs will have replaced Schubert’s. In his line, Gurney is supreme. I always said he [wouldn’t] live long — his work was such a consummation — & now he is in all but name, dead’. Although only confined in a hospital, Gurney was lost; his place in society and his standing as an active artist gone. His works received a little further attention, with the publication of his two Carnegie award winning song cycles, the first,Lu dlow & Teme (1923) even being broadcast on the radio in 1925; and Jack Squire published a few new poems in his literary journal, The London Mercury, in 1933-34, in an attempt to resurrect Gurney’s name and fortunes. But Gurney was otherwise almost entirely overlooked and forgotten. Not only this, but he was powerless to effect any interest in his work. He wrote many appeals for release, and asking that his music be performed and his poetry published, but to no avail. During the first five years of his incarceration he continued to write prolifically, although only a very small handful of the hundreds of poems and musical works made it out into the world.

Gurney should perhaps have sunk without a trace. With his two published poetry collections of 1917 and 1919, and his published songs and piano works, he may have been a notable footnote in the history of English poetry and music, such as is W. Denis Browne. Where Finzi’s work blossomed under the aegis of his own networking, being able to build and promote an increasing body of performed and published work, Gurney’s reputation has been borne by a trickle of acolytes; individual followers who keep the flame alive and seek to do what they can to keep his name and work in the public sphere. Indeed, it is only through the agency of these acolytes that Gurney’s work has even survived, preserved from being lost or destroyed.

The first of Gurney’s acolytes was the one who bore his flame, and the burden of his art and life, from his first formal footings as a creative artist: Marion Scott. She and Gurney met at the Royal College of Music in 1912, and it was through her encouragement that Gurney began writing poetry in earnest in 1915, serving his apprenticeship as a poet during the war. Scott oversaw the publication of these first poems, notably collating, and seeing from proposal to press, his first collections, Severn and Somme and War’s Embers. In the wake of Gurney’s incarceration, Scott resumed her ministrations, looking after both Gurney’s personal care and his business affairs. She was his connection with the outside world, overseeing the publication of the few works that did make it out. Her most notable act, however, as far as posterity is concerned, was in preserving the thousands of manuscripts produced by Gurney. She retained all of his papers, and asked that all of his work from the asylum be passed to her. Furthermore, towards the end of his life she advertised and asked Gurney’s friends and acquaintances whether they held any manuscripts, in order to preserve his work as a single collection.

Here it is that Gurney’s second acolyte enters the scene: Gerald Finzi, and, through him, his wife, Joy. Finzi discovered Gurney’s work in 1920, taking the newly published Elizabethan Songs to his lesson with Edward Bairstow in York, where Elsie Suddaby, at Bairstow’s for a singing lesson, sang ‘Sleep’. It was Finzi’s ‘Damascus’ moment; his realisation of the true power and intensity that could be achieved in song. The influence of Gurney on Finzi’s own work has not yet been examined fully, but bore fruit in two songs of 1925, Only the Wanderer’(published posthumously in the set Oh Fair to See) and Carol’, which was reworked into one of the movements of the Bagatelles for clarinet and piano. Let us Garlands Bring (1942) may also have been influenced, in the nature of the set, and perhaps more deeply, by those Five Elizabethan Songs of Gurney. It was no accident that Finzi lived for a short time on Chosen Hill and in Painswick; places beloved of Gurney, amongst others, and a locality that bore and inspired many significant musicians and poets in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Finzi wrote to Marion Scott in early 1925, asking whether a new collection of songs might be prepared. In July and August of that year, a new set of Edward Thomas songs, Lights Out, was brought together. Finzi was amongst those who contributed financially to its publication by subscription by Stainer & Bell in 1926. At this same time in 1925 Finzi also assisted with the preparation of the scores for the 1926 Carnegie Trust publication of The Western Playland. However, Finzi’s role as one of Gurney’s key acolytes came in 1937, the final year of Gurney’s life. One of the main impetuses behind Scott’s call for material from Gurney’s friends and acquaintances was the undertaking by Finzi, with the help of Joy Finzi and Howard Ferguson, and occasional advice from Vaughan Williams, of the cataloguing of Gurney’s music manuscripts. As part of this, Finzi and Ferguson proffered a rough grading of the quality of the music: two ticks for very good; one tick for good; a tick and a cross for ‘moderate to bad’; and a cross for bad. He wrote that their system of grading ‘must seem very ridiculous — like a Baedecker [sic] Guide!!’

In parallel with the cataloguing, Finzi was arranging for the publication of twenty of Gurney’s songs by the Oxford University Press (OUP), which Finzi himself transcribed and prepared from the manuscript, ready for engraving. Further volumes of 10 songs appeared due to Finzi’s efforts in 1952 and 1958, the latter volume undertaken following Finzi’s death by Howard Ferguson and Finzi’s son, Kiffer. In order to flag up the new song publications, Finzi was pushing Scott to arrange for a few articles on Gurney and his work to be published in OUP’s journal Music and Letters, to coincide with the publication of the twenty songs in 1938. In devising the range of articles Finzi observed in a letter to John Haines that‘names are what are needed for drawing attention’, i.e. established poets and composers whose name would lend weight to, and in turn qualify the merit of, Gurney’s work. Finzi emphasised the balance of articles required to lift Gurney’s work out of anonymity. Some would proffer a ‘Benediction’: a laying on of hands; a seal of merit and blessing from a well-known figure. Others would balance this with a more discursive article. For the music, Vaughan Williams had offered such a ‘Benediction’, whilst Howells was suggested as the writer of an article on the songs. In respect of the poetry, Walter de la Mare gave the Benediction while Squire provided the greater substance. Although Gurney saw the proofs of the symposium, intended as a living tribute, when it was published in the January 1938 issue of Music and Letters, it had become a posthumous tribute, issued just days after his death on Boxing Day 1937.

Despite Finzi and Gurney living in Gloucestershire concurrently for a short time, and their attending the same concert at a British Music Society congress in London in May 1920, the two composers were never to meet. A meeting was planned, through their mutual friend Herbert Howells, in 1935, a mutual meeting of composers, but the tragic loss of Howells’s son, Michael, intervened, and no further opportunity for that meeting arose.

The Finzis’ work on Gurney’s behalf was not limited to his music. They persuaded Edmund Blunden to prepare a first selection of Gurney’s poetry for publication. With Blunden’s being so busy, he only managed to get round to the edition in May 1951, when the Finzis locked him in a room with Gurney’s poetry at their home in Ashmansworth. Blunden trawled through the many typescripts of the poetry that had been made across the years by Marion Scott and her typist, and by a tame typist known to the Vaughan Williamses, and brought together a collection that was published in 1954. This was the first major collection of Gurney’s poetry to be published since his second collection, War’s Embers, in 1919.

On Christmas eve in 1953 Marion Scott died. She bequeathed to Finzi the debt of monies incurred by her in the course of Gurney’s care and work. For 16 years she had held Gurney’s manuscripts as collateral against this debt. In so doing, Scott ensured the preservation of Gurney’s work by keeping the manuscripts from Gurney’s brother, Ronald. Ronald did not understand Gurney and his work, nor the efforts that others were making on his behalf, and were the manuscripts to come into his hands it was probable that he would destroy them. With the transfer of that debt, and the manuscripts, to the Finzis, perversely Ronald determined to pay the debt and reclaim the manuscripts for the family. A few years after Gerald Finzi’s death in 1956, Ronald acceded to pressure brought upon him by the Finzis and Vaughan Williams, and deposited the collection on permanent loan with Gloucester Public Library, since transferred to what is now Gloucestershire Archives. This ensured the survival of Gurney’s work for the long term.

There is, sadly, a shadow side to this wrangling with the manuscript collection, which is painful to say and painful to hear: Joy destroyed a large number of manuscripts. There is a note in the Gurney Archive written by her two years after Gerald’s death: ‘All the contents of this box were sorted from a vast collection of miscellaneous material and appeals for help — most of which followed a pattern of incoherence — the main mass of which has been destroyed. Joyce Finzi Ashmansworth. October 1958.’ Gerald, I am sure, would not have sanctioned such a destruction. While she makes mention of appeals and ‘miscellaneous material’, it is significant that a large number of music manuscripts also went missing in the midst of these wranglings. The major part of these missing musical works is the contents of a page of Finzi’s catalogue listing 26 predominantly chamber works of 1924–26, but also including a symphony. At the head of that page in the catalogue is written by Finzi, ‘Everything on this page is useless’.

Finzi admitted in a letter written to Marion Scott following the first cataloguing session in January 1937 that;
The sorting has been even more difficult than I expected, chiefly because there is comparatively little that one can be really sure is bad. Even the late 1925 asylum songs, though they get more and more involved (and at the same time more disintegrated, if you know what I mean) have a curious coherence about them somewhere, which makes it difficult to know when they really are over the border.

If these numerous late instrumental works were destroyed, as seems most likely, it was undoubtedly an act that sought to ensure that only the best of Gurney’s work was preserved, so as not to compromise his reputation by the bringing out of‘useless’ works.

Upon the deposition of the Gurney papers in Gloucester Public Library, a third significant acolyte enters the scene: the Forest of Dean poet, Leonard Clark. Clark had attended Gurney’s funeral at Twigworth on 31 December 1937, and shortly thereafter wrote a poem ‘In memoriam Ivor Gurney’; a poem recently set to music by Ian Venables in his song cycle The Pine Boughs Past Music (2010). Clark spent many hours in the library working with the papers, and in 1963 prepared a substantial new collection of Gurney’s poetry, drawing not only upon the typescripts but also the many unpublished manuscripts. However, Ronald Gurney stamped on the publication and would not, as copyright holder, give permission for the use of the poetry. Ronald’s obstruction continued to the end, and permission from the family to publish Clark’s collection was only given following Ronald’s death in 1971. It finally appeared ten years after its making, in 1973, published by Chatto and Windus. The final publication of Clark’s selection contained significant cuts, with only around a half of the poems in Clark’s typescript making it to the final book. Even now, much of that other half remains unpublished.

The death of the obstructive Ronald, and the release of Clark’s collection, gave rise to a new momentum to the efforts to bring Gurney’s work to a wider public, through a series of new acolytes. In 1978, Oxford University Press published the first biography of Gurney, written by Michael Hurd, who a year later also prepared a fifth volume of ten songs for OUP. This was followed in 1982 by a major new collection of Gurney’s poetry, again published by OUP, edited by the late P. J. Kavanagh. He was assisted greatly by Kate Kavanagh, his wife, who undertook a significant survey of the poetry in the archive. Kelsey Thornton brought the first collection of Gurney’s correspondence to publication in 1983, War Letters, followed by the Collected Letters in 1991. A new edition by Thornton of Gurney’s first poetry collections followed, and thence editions of three previously unpublished collections. One of these volumes was co-edited with George Walter, who in turn edited and published Gurney’s third intended collection, rejected by his publisher in 1923, 80 Poems or So. Between them, Thornton and Walter are responsible for bringing some hundreds of poems to public attention for the first time. In 1986, Anthony Boden published a more intimate collection, Stars in a Dark Night. As well as the work on the poetry and letters, Richard Carder was exploring the music, seeking to bring new works to life out of the archive.

A significant moment came in 1995 with the realisation of Anthony Boden’s vision for an Ivor Gurney Society; an important focal point for the social appreciation and encouragement of interest in Gurney and his works. Boden also took on, formalised, and made active the Ivor Gurney Trust. Boden, the Trust, and the Society, have played a key role in bringing about and supporting new recordings of Gurney’s works; a critical thing in the modern reception of any composer.

Gurney could have been lost to us, being that small footnote in the annals of British poetry and music. However, through this procession of acolytes, his work has largely survived the precariousnesses of time and obstruction. The knowledge and reception of Gurney has now gathered such momentum as to ensure that his work will survive and be known by future generations. It is only through the work of this handful of acolytes, carrying Gurney’s work across the years, that biographies and studies by Pamela Blevins (2008), Eleanor Rawling (2010) and Kate Kennedy (2018) have been made possible. It is a great privilege for me to follow humbly in this line of esteemed acolytes, and to have worked, and be working, alongside Ian Venables (who has taken on Anthony Boden’s mantle in the Society and Trust) and Tim Kendall on bringing some substantial portions of Gurney’s output into the public arena, much of it for the first time.

This history of the carriage of Gurney’s work across three quarters or so of a century is all well and good, but what about that opening question: Do we know who Gurney is? To echo the inevitable question from the back seat of the car, ‘Are we there yet?’ Do we know the nature of his art and the motivations and aspirations that he sought in his work?

The short answer is No: we are not yet there. During the last 30 years, poetically, and 10, musically, we have opened many more windows onto his work; but there are many corners of the room on which we are only just shedding light. With the coming publication of the complete poetry by OUP, which I am editing with Tim Kendall, it will be possible, for the first time, to assess this key arm of his output in full for the first time, warts and all. A radical and revelatory opening up of his work. Musically, we are in a better position than ever before, with the breadth of the recorded catalogue which now takes in orchestral, choral and chamber work; but there is still work to be done. Once the work has found its way out into the world, through publication, performance or recording, it takes time for the work to settle; to be absorbed and assessed. Which pieces of his work will live and perhaps find a place in the fickle Literary and Musical Canons? This is a question of chance and opportunity.

But getting the work out into the public arena is only one part of the process. There is a need, particularly with Gurney, to reassess the received knowledge and history of the man and his work; to refresh the expectations of what it is that Gurney is; to inform performers and readers and listeners so that they might meet Gurney on his own terms. The reception of Gurney’s work has been blighted absolutely by his biography. That most media-worthy, sensational aspect of his life, that he ‘went mad’, has coloured much of what we think about his work. The perception of madness and the stigma of the asylum has led to the censorship of both his music and poetry. It has given birth to myths about Gurney which often have little foundation. The seed of some of these were planted early on. For instance, in the January 1938 Music and Letters symposium, Herbert Howells contributed an article on Gurney’s music in which he wrote of his early work and experience:
Gurney went to London in 1911, his wallet bulging with works of many kinds. There were piano preludes thick with untamed chords; violin works strewn with ecstatic crises; organ works which he tried out in the midst of Gloucester’s imperturbable Norman Pillars. There was, too, an essay for orchestra that strained a chaotic technique to breaking-point. In 1911 he had enthusiasm enough to write anything.

I have huge respect for Howells, but I can’t help but hear in this the retrospective layering and confusion of the man and music. Howells, writing in 1937, is looking through the lens of hindsight; a lens of breakdowns and of the struggles with which Gurney had to do battle. But here, in Howells’words, are the beginnings of a great Gurneian Myth: the untamed chaos of Gurney, of his music, and of his scores. This is a myth that has marred the perception of Gurney. From the manuscript evidence, Howells’s assertions cannot be substantiated. The only orchestral essay up to this point, a Coronation March (1910-11),is highly Elgarian, but there is nothing either chaotic or technically deficient in it; the ‘untamed chords’(whatever that might mean) are not in evidence; and the 1910-11 violin works seem to be devoid of‘ecstatic crises’. What might be more true is that, in Howells’s opinion, Gurney was lacking the refinement and elegant finesse which we associate with Howells’s own art. Formally, Gurney’s works are certainly more fluid in nature, and not as structurally tight as Howells would undoubtedly have prepared and preferred, but there is still form. In short, Gurney was Gurney; he was not Howells.

This label of ‘chaos’ in relation to Gurney’s scores has persisted to a remarkable degree. A reviewer of a recent CD recording of Gurney’s A Gloucestershire Rhapsody wrote of that work having ‘long [been] thought to be unplayable owing to the apparently incomplete state in which the music survived.’ That reviewer, and indeed the writer of the sleeve note, lays at mine and Ian Venables’s feet the accolade of having ‘reconstructed’ the score. This simply isn’t true. Gurney’s score was complete and coherent. It had merely been ignored for ninety years. The same has been said of the War Elegy for orchestra, which Ian and I edited for recording in 2006. There were unusual brass transpositions to be dealt with and some correcting of obvious mistakes; and a couple of bars had to be completed, where Gurney had turned a page and forgotten to complete the lines, but it was not the dissolute mess and heavy reconstructive job that writers would have you believe.

Which is not to play down the job of an editor! Editing is a time-consuming and critical job, involving a multitude of small decisions. A bad edition can ruin a work and, through that, compromise an artist’s reputation, while a good edition can help readers or performers navigate a piece and make its reading or performance easier, and therefore, we hope, more viable and regular. In editing the poetry there are regularly stances to be taken on whether a word is one thing or another; and more especially when a full stop is a full stop and not a comma or a colon a semi-colon. In a couple of poem manuscripts there are lines which are to one side of the main line of the text which might be annotations, or they might be part of the poem, needing to be inserted within the text. Musically, there are decisions about whether a note is on the line or below it; whether Gurney has omitted an accidental (a sharp or a flat: he often forgets!). There are also those slightly invasive moments, when one must make a decision about whether, as in the War Elegy, a part is incomplete and needs finishing. Tied notes or phrases can go over a page-turn but arrive into nothing . . . Then there are the decisions about what to offer as a guide to performers about how to interpret the work: tempo, dynamics (sparingly given by Gurney), style and manner.

As an example of the more extreme end of the editor’s job, in his edition of Gurney’s Hilaire Belloc setting, Tarantella, Ian Venables has constructed a version of the song from two of the five extant manuscript versions, for no single version quite gets the poem right. But this is an exception rather than a rule.

So yes: an editor is required, but Gurney’s music does not require the wholesale reconstruction of works from chaotic fragments, as has been suggested. Please put to bed any ideas that Gurney’s work is in a chaotic state! That sense of chaos likely hasn’t been helped by the until-recently-haphazard state of the archive. During my work on Gurney over the last decade I have reorganised the archive so as to bring all of the literary work into chronological order, making it easier to assess the state of, and the relationships within, this vast body of work. This has made realistic that task of editing the complete poetry; a task currently reaching its apogee on mine and Tim Kendall’s desks.

As an editor, one does have to tread a careful line. Whilst wishing to make sense of the music and correcting obvious errors, it is important to present the work as closely as possible to the way in which the author or composer intended. In his letter to Scott of January 1937, after the first cataloguing session, Finzi made a remarkably prescient observation:

I think the eventual difficulty of ‘editing’ the later Gurney may be great: a neat mind could smooth away the queerness — like Rimsky-Korsakov with Mussorgsky — yet time and familiarity will probably show something not so mistaken, after all, about the queer and odd things.

In this Post-Modern era, things are more fluid. Expectations and styles are less formally rigid than once they were and the measure of good’music has become more flexible. Where once a particular parallel interval or harmonic progression might have been seen as categorically wrong, in a Classical sense, musical opinion is now much more open and accepting. What might have been seen as a weakness or curiosity can now be accepted as an expressive nuance, of which Gurney’s are his fingerprint as a composer and as a poet. In an article in the Ivor Gurney Society Journal, Michael Hurd once demonstrated the difficulty of editing some of Gurney’s songs. He ‘smooth[ed] away the queerness’, making them more Classically acceptable, and in so doing removed those fingerprints that made it Gurney. The same could be said of the poetry. It is the ‘queerness’ of the language that makes it Gurney. It is notable that, just as Gurney’s poetic language was becoming more unique, just as it was becoming interesting, his conservative publisher turned down his work. The easy lyricism that sold well was making way for a unique music of a far greater originality.

The pinnacle of Gurney’s poetry, in my opinion, comes in 1925–26. It was a hugely prolific period for Gurney, in poetry and music, yet, owing to the stigma of the asylum and the seeming presumption that this late asylum work was somehow incoherent and useless, it has been largely overlooked. Of the extraordinary body of some 380 poems written in 1926, only just over 30 have been published to date. By 1926 Gurney has worked through his immediate situation; he has worked through his memories of experience; and he has emerged out of the other side with a new universality and language joyous in its music; poetry of an energy and generosity that is genuinely remarkable. It is a far cry from the juvenilia of his poetic apprenticeship, served whilst on Active Service during the war; that body of early work that forms the primary back-bone of what we know of Gurney’s poetry. Gurney was a true Modernist, although this fact has been diluted in an identification of madness and chaos in his work rather than true modernism.

Such perceptions can be born of expectation; what we expect to find there: What do we bring to Gurney that makes us think we know what he and his work should be? What do we perceive him to be from the few works we know? And how do we take on the mantle of those acolytes and‘find him’for ourselves in such a way as to discover the truth of his work?

Gurney defies boundaries, not least in the fact that he is a composer and a poet. As a culture, we have an apparent need to pigeon-hole people; to put them neatly into a shoebox that defines them. Poetically, Gurney is variously a War Poet; a Gloucestershire Poet or poet of landscape and nature; perhaps a‘mad’poet. In the unpublished poetry there are many works that defy these labels, and we should be wary of bringing such labels and expectations to Gurney, even if Gurney himself used the first about himself (albeit for the sake of seeking respect than in definition of himself). Siegfried Sassoon resented the fact that he was labelled a War Poet, a label that afflicted him for the five decades of writing that followed the war. In Gurney’s output of some 1,800 poems, just over 300 might be counted as ‘War poems’, a relatively small proportion.

Musically, Gurney is known almost exclusively as a song composer and a miniaturist. Indeed, Gurney did have a particular penchant for setting words, but he was not only this. Furthermore, while he is allied stylistically with Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, with Elgar and Parry (not without reason), there is something more in his work: an impressionism that comes to the fore in his most intense songs and in instrumental works such as A Gloucestershire Rhapsody for orchestra, which only received its premiere in 2010. I heard some rumblings amongst Gurnites that the work should not have been brought out of the archive, and that, having been heard once, it should be returned post-haste. Finzi, in his 1937 catalogue, gave the Rhapsody an X, adding, ‘[Vaughan Williams] knows this work, and doesn’t think it any good.’ However, when Robert Matthew-Walker reviewed the commercial CD release of the work, he singled out the Rhapsody as ‘a most individual score […] a uniquely expressive work’. We are able to experience the piece as Finzi and Vaughan Williams never could, in performance, and can assess it for ourselves. In order to do so properly, we must forget Brahms and those other inheritances, and listen for Gurney. We must accept the piece on its own terms. Fundamentally, the music should be heard; it should be allowed to live. A similar open-mindedness must be used in his work in other genres that have recently started to open up: the recent premiere and recording of Gurney’s 1925 motet for double choir, Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty has revealed an extraordinary work in which the choirs occasionally shift against each other like tectonic plates with remarkable effect; and his chamber music is now represented on disc by a violin sonata, cello sonata and a beautiful late string quartet movement. This latter, by a fluke of survival, is a movement from one of those chamber works likely destroyed by Joy Finzi. As Finzi wrote, time has shown ‘something not so mistaken, after all’. Not every work is a masterpiece, but the more we are able to read and hear, the closer we can get to the truth of who Gurney is.

Gurney was unable establish his own name and work. It is only through the efforts of his acolytes, keeping what was often just a lonely candle alight, that he has now established a momentum sufficient to carry his work into the future. However, his reputation, and the regard for and opinion of his work, has been marred by his biography; mired in myths that have accumulated around him. His works have been suppressed, and his manner and modes lost in labelled pigeon holes. We must accept artists on their own terms, through their works alone, without any expectation or preconception. Only then can we genuinely know the measure and truth of an artist.


Philip Lancaster



Short Biog:

Philip Lancaster is a composer, singer, scholar, lecturer and occasional poet. A leading authority on the works of Ivor Gurney, Philip has edited and realised numerous works for performance, recording and publication, and is co-editing with Prof. Tim Kendall Gurney’s complete poetry for publication. Philip is also writing a major study of Gurney’s music and poetry. He was lately British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Exeter, where he taught poetry, and was the recipient of a Finzi Trust Scholarship in 2014.

Finzi’s Earth and Air and Rain: a performer’s view

As I recently took my copy of Earth and Air and Rain off the shelf to revise it for a recital, I was struck by a number of things. Firstly, what a cracking section of my library the Finzi song category is! Secondly, how well-worn my copy is; it’s wonderful to revisit music that one knows so well, and to see how it continues to evolve across a lifetime. (What a magical thing music is – that, for all we notate it in a fixed way, it continues to live and breathe, and only really exists in a moment.) Thirdly, what an amazing selection of poetry this set comprises: some of Hardy’s best, which Finzi put together himself. And fourthly, as I started playing through it again, what a glorious piece of music this is, how beautifully it lies under the hands, how distinctively like Finzi it feels to play, and how evocative the harmonic language is. The meeting of minds between Hardy and Finzi is something special (albeit probably without meeting in physical terms. In the words ofTo a Poet:“Since I can never see your face,And never shake you by the hand,I send my soul through time and spaceTo greet you. You will understand.”Whilst others can and have set these poems, it will take something to beat Finzi’sunderstanding, and the music’s synergy with Hardy’s texts.Finzi wrote that ‘if I had to be cut off from everything,[Hardy’s Collected Poems] would be the one book I should choose’. He set over fifty of Hardy’s poems and, a die-hard fan, even purchased Hardy’s walking stick when the writer’s belongings were sold after his death.Many others, better qualified and more knowledgeable, have written for this publication, so it would be foolish to try to ‘out-academicise’ them. Instead, I’m going to explore this cycle from the performer’s perspective: a whistle-stop tour of what I notice, and what the challenges are in this music.

Song is unique in its confluence of poem and music, and to me it is clear that the very best songs have both excellent poetry and excellent music, each of which illumines the other. Hardy’s poems are not necessarily straightforward; in fact sometimes Finzi’s settings make the texts more clear rather than less, which is unusual in a musical setting. As a song pianist, one of the fascinations for me is how we embrace, explore and express the text. For the singer, these are questions too, but perhaps the answers are more obvious; after all, they actually sing the words.A good composer writes a vocal line that fits the text, in rhythm, shape and mood; the singer, then, just has to sing it (‘just’! With the perfectly formed vowels and consonants for the language concerned, with controlled breath, with a musician’s understanding of the music and an actor’s skill for conveying mood and meaning; I don’t underestimate the job of the singer). In my opinion, the song pianist should spend every bit as long with the text – reading it, considering it, analysing it, interpreting it, internalising it. Without a clear sense of what the poem is about, we can’t convey our thoughts coherently or meaningfully. For the pianist, there are a different set of decisions to make. Do we match the character’s thoughts with the singer?Are we, in effect, the same character, experiencing the same love or loss or searching, as one? Or are we the scenery?The context?The description? Are we an answer to the singer’s questions, almost an off-stage character, or the other half of an imagined dialogue or an internal tussle? Affirming their thoughts, or articulating those which cannot be put into words, or finding resolution where the poem doesn’t provide it? The pianist is, of course, all of these things and more. In my experience, in Finzi’s music, the pianist’s role switches particularly quickly between these functions and it is this which makes the music so constantly fresh.

‘Summer Schemes’ is an upbeat opening to a relatively thoughtful cycle. Summer arrives, and calls the birds, who flood the land with their singing; the waters spring from little chinks and cascade down the hill, enhancing all the green growth of the land. The piano writing is full of bubbling and cascading, all quavers and flurries. Immediately, Finzi sets up his irregular use of time signatures: after only two bars in triple time he shifts to quadruple, and then quickly back, thereafter constantly switching through the song. Often this shifting is to match the speech rhythms of the text; we don’t speak in a fixed metre, and Finzi’s text setting is almost entirely syllabic (I can’t find a single melisma in this cycle), so the rhythm of the melodies follows a speech pattern. This changing time pattern also lends the music a fluidity: it never sits down, but stays afloat, moving at ease like the rivers and birds of the poem. Like many others in the cycle, I recently discovered I’ve tended to perform this song more slowly than the composer’s marking suggests. It’s easy to be seduced by the beauty of Finzi’s music, by how delectable the harmonies are, and how regretful the thoughts often are. For English musicians in particular, there is a danger of wallowing in every little moment of beauty. Our continental colleagues, without the same English nostalgic associations, often bring a rigour to their performances of this music: a viola professor when I was studying at the Academy once pointed out that the most spectacularly scenic walk is ruined if you stop and hug every single tree along the way. Keeping the simplicity of the line flowing here means that when we get to ‘“We’ll go,” I sing; but who shall say What may not chance before that day!’, the composer’s shift to minims and crotchets has more impact. The music more than halves in speed, creating a pause for contemplation over our powerlessness to control fate.Here the piano and voice parts are more closely locked together; our thought is as one.

One of the joys of playing these songs is the ‘Finzi Echo’ which litters the score: the piano echoes the singer’s phrase, or the end of it, almost affirming the thought (or in some cases, perhaps questioning it). ‘Who shall say What may not chance before that day!’ is echoed by ‘…before that day….’ in the piano, reiterating the thought, hovering for consideration, before verse two begins. Interestingly, this question is left unanswered, and the music remains in the minor key, whilst the equivalent at the end of verse two, ‘but who may sing Of what another moon will bring!’ settles on the major: an acceptance, perhaps, that while we can’t control our future, we can enjoy what we have today.

‘When I set out for Lyonnesse’ sets up what looks like an assertive martial motif, but is marked pp misterioso; this is actually depicting wide-eyed youth and fairytale, rather than a heavy trudge, and again a sufficiently swift tempo is vital. Lyonnesse is a country in Arthurian legend (notably in the story of Tristan and Iseult), said to border Cornwall. As a young apprentice architect, Hardy visited the St Juliot rectory and church in Cornwall for the first time, to supervise the restoration of a church, and here met his future wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford. On his return from the parish, people noticed a glow in his eyes (and, allegedly, a crumpled piece of paper sticking out of his coat pocket, containing the draft of this poem). Just as in the first song, here the melodic rise and fall is wide: an octave and a half span in less than three bars for the singer, with most phrases following a similar sweep. This lends the music a distinctive openness and optimism. It is hard, however, to carry off well: most singers will find either the top of the phrases a struggle or the bottom of the phrases hard to project well, and the diligent accompanist must always have ears alert to balance the same piano textures differently according to the range of the voice. The ‘melting moment’ as E minor gives way to E major could be written by no-one other than Finzi, the music more wistful as the voice notes ‘what would bechance at Lyonnesse….No prophet durst declare’. Two magical modulations, from E to Eb, and then back to G major / E minor, show us the ‘magic’ in the eyes after this trip to Lyonnesse.

‘Waiting Both’ captures beautifully the spaciousness of a starry night: the distance of the stars from earth portrayed in the wide range of piano writing, using everything from the depths of the bass range right up to the top octave but one of the keyboard. Rhythmically, there is a wonderful timelessness to this song, the piano gestures mostly placed across the barline, so we feel no clear beat. Time is somehow suspended as this strange little dialogue between star and human being takes place, each agreeing that the only thing they can do in life is ‘Wait, and let Time go by.’

The first song from this cycle that I got to know well, ‘The Phantom’ is also one of the most obviously narrative of the set. It’s always a challenge to read poems in their ‘original’, free-standing form, without influencing the pacing through knowledge of a particular composer’s musical setting, but I find that particularly to be true with this poem. I can’t help thinking that it’s because Finzi so wonderfully captured Hardy’s shapes and moods here, that the two are somehow inextricable. From the outset Finzi foreshadows the character we meet at the end of the poem (‘a ghost-girl-rider’: Hardy titled the poem ‘The Phantom Horserider’), with wonderful galloping dotted rhythms and melodic sweeps. The first word, ‘queer’, interrupts the piano’s introduction in an appropriately unexpected way:

Queer are the ways of a man I know:
He comes and stands
In a careworn craze,
And looks at the sands
And the seaward haze
With moveless hands
And face and gaze,
Then turns to go…
And what does he see when he gazes so?

Just as the language builds up in pace, almost breathless in this ‘craze’, so the music is ‘hyped up’, in tessitura and in relentlessness, until it stops, catching itself, at ‘With moveless hands’; and with a shrug of the shoulders, a tempo, ‘Then turns to go’. But the galloping motif slows, ritenuto, and instead of harmonizing the A natural with an F major chord, it’s with F sharp minor, remote and searching, as we ask ‘And what does he see when he gazes so?’ Again the Finzi Echo in the piano writing – ‘when he gazes so…. gazes so……..’:we’re lost in thought.

They say he sees as an instant thing
More clear than to-day,
A sweet soft scene
That once was in play
By that briny green;
Yes, notes alway
Warm, real, and keen,
What his back years bring—
A phantom of his own figuring.

In a different key, a different time signature, and a different tempo, we’re transported to the different world which is the protagonist’s dream-land.

Of this vision of his they might say more:
Not only there
Does he see this sight,
But everywhere
In his brain–day, night,
As if on the air
It were drawn rose bright–
Yea, far from that shore
Does he carry this vision of heretofore:

Just as the character is sent crazy, unable to escape these images, so the motifs chime through the texture, inescapable, that echo employed here for a very particular effect: ‘But everywhere’ – ‘everywhere’ – ‘everywhere’. The music pauses as we discover who the vision is, and then withers chromatically, before the music it conjours up hope of some kind of resurrection, we hear:

A ghost-girl-rider. And though, toil-tried,
He withers daily,
Time touches her not,
But she still rides gaily
In his rapt thought
On that shagged and shaly
Atlantic spot,
And as when first eyed
Draws rein and sings to the swing of the tide.

Following the drama of this large-scale song, the simplicity of ‘So I have fared’ is welcome. Hardy’s subtitle ‘after reading Psalms XXXIX, XL, etc.’, and Finzi’s note that ‘This recitative should be sung with the flexibility and freedom of ordinary speech, and the crotchet should approximate to the reciting note of Anglican chant’ leave us in no doubt that this is church music. The piano’s sustained chords and simple harmonic progressions are reminiscent of plainchant accompaniment or a gentle chorale, with only small changes of pitch in the melodic writing, and the Latin phrases of this macaronic poem punctuate the cadential thoughts. This easy ritualistic writing is unsettled, however, in the last verse; the music changes, the harmony is more disturbed, the pacing new: ‘And at dead of night I call: “Though to prophets list I, Which hath understood at all? Yea: “Quemelegisti?” [whom did you choose?].’ Perhaps here, for composer and poet alike, we see an uneasy relationship with faith.

The rollicking ‘Rollicum-Rorum’ is the breath of fresh air and humour in the set. When each of an increasingly unlikely scenarios plays out (lawyers striving to heal a breach, parsons practising what they preach, justices holding equal scales, rogues only being found in jails, rich men finding their wealth a curse, filling therewith the poor man’s purse, and finally husbands with their wives agreeing and maids not wedding from modesty): ‘Then Boney he’ll come pouncing down, And march his men on London town!’ (i.e. so unlikely is it that Napoleon will invade London). The refrain ‘Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lorum, Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lay’ taps into something anciently English:almost a ‘fa-la-la-la’. The staccato articulation and cheeky cross-rhythms give this song an energy unlike any other in the set, and the very fast metronome marking provides a challenge for even the best singers (“maids won’t wed for modesty” often trips people up at speed!). Furthermore, every verse enters at a different point in the piano interlude: a trap waiting to be fallen into!

‘To Lizbie Browne’ is my personal favourite of the cycle, a beautifully-paced, devastatingly simple tale of what might have been. (Finzi is reputed to have named it as one of the worst of the set, but I cannot agree!) Like so many Finzi melodies, this sweeps upwards, and then falters and falls. Always the first half is what might have been, and the second how it failed to materialise. Given the preponderance of tempo indications in much of Finzi’s writing, his footnote here is reassuring to the performer: ‘The beat should be flexible and wayward…. Such suppleness cannot, of course, be determined by directions on paper, and the modifications of speed which are given should only be considered as an outline.’ It’s so easy to get bogged down in trying to obey every marking a composer puts on paper, and important to remember that it’s most important that they are in the service of communicating text and mood, and as such need to be generated by the text and music, rather than being executed out of diligence!

The immediate question for performers in ‘The Clock of the Years’ is whether or not the singer should speak the printed line “A spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up.” This line, from the Biblical book of Job (4:15), is quoted by Hardy at the top of his poem, and by Finzi at the top of his song. To me, the rest of the song makes little sense without it, and so the singer should declaim it, setting up rush of demisemiquavers in the piano which launch ‘And the Spirit said, “I can make the clock of the years go backward, But am loth to stop it where you will.” Doing a deal with the devil, our character answers, “Agreed To that. Proceed: It’s better than dead!”. Out of this recitative-style opening unfolds the tragedy of seeing the beloved’s life played backwards, until ‘she was nought at all…. It was as if She had never been.’Scrunching through painful clashing sevenths and haunting piano echos (…’never been’… ‘never been’…) we are lulled into a horrid dream-like siciliana: can it really be happening? In a horror of unrelenting minor chords, in the depths of the piano’s bass range, we hear it was our poor protagonist’s own fault: ‘It was your choice To mar the ordained.’

‘In a Churchyard’is somehow easily forgotten in this cycle, but unjustly so. The poem in fact is one of the most strange and most philosophical, and the music matches it. Perhaps here, more than anywhere else in the set we hear the impact of Finzi’s church music, descriptively moving from the creeping yew roots, buried underground, to the timeless long line of ‘Each day-span’s sum of hours’, and to the bold fanfares of ‘That no God trumpet us to rise We truly hope’. Every bit of imagery in the poem is matched with a musical texture and a harmonic colour. It is immaculately painted, and enormously satisfying to play.

The final song, ‘Proud Songsters’, is more about the piano than the voice (I realise I am heavily biased… but I think I’m right!) It feels in this way that it fits in a tradition derived from Schumann (and most obviously Dichterliebe, with its great summing-up piano postlude), of final songs being somehow handed over to the piano. A lengthy introduction, full of suspensions, added seconds, false relations, and with driving Finzi rhythms under the spun melodic lines, presents challenges to the pianist. With so many layers of texture, we have to work hard to ‘orchestrate’ the music, picking out the different layers, to really show all the detail, without it feeling cluttered. The voice’s entry, when it happens, is unexpected; just a comment on what has been heard from the piano:

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales in bushes
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all Time were theirs.

And so the birds’ chorus really takes off, the piano writing launching into an almost symphonic sweep, and then, through a twist of harmony with a crucial A natural taking us away from B minor towards D major, it starts to wind down. The rhythm stills, and the driving ceases. The point of the poem is in the second stanzaand, really, the point of the cycle too. For both Hardy and Finzi, themes of the passing of time, the transience of life, and our role in a bigger universe, return time and again. Earth and Air and Rain was published in 1936, having taken several years before that to write, but was not premiered until 1945. Given the events of the intervening years, these themes must have been horribly poignant but also profoundly understood. So, framed musically with what is almost a chorale of peace and reconciliation, Finzi leaves us with the thought:

These are brand new birds of twelvemonths’ growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales, nor thrushes,
But only particles of grain,
And earth, and air, and rain.

I always feel a real satisfaction if singer and pianist manage to generate a lengthy silence at the end of this song; we and the audience are lost in thought. Yet, somehow, the music here also feels that it could segue quite naturally into ‘Summer Schemes’, and we could begin the whole journey again. How cyclical life is, and how beautifully Finzi captures that in this piece.


Libby Burgess

Texture and Timbre in Dies Natalis

Consideration of texture and timbre in what is one of Gerald Finzi’s most distinctive works, and arguably one of his most popular, cannot fail to take into account previous or contemporary works in a similar genre. One of the most immediately apparent as a similar work is Britten’s Les Illuminations. Interestingly, though, this was composed at the end of the 1930s around the time that Finzi was completing Dies Natalis. It fared better than Dies Natalis in receiving its first performance in 1940, sung by the soprano, Sophie Wyss, whereas Finzi’s work had to wait until after the war for its premiere in 1946.However, the genesis ofDies Natalis was a complex affair (outlined in Stephen Banfield’s 1997 book on Finzi ) so that it can be confidently understood that much of Finzi’s work was composed well before Britten’s. Interestingly, Banfield points out that Sophie Wyss was the original singer envisaged for Dies Natalis. (If mention of the soprano voice sparks confusion in relation to Dies Natalis, please read further!)There are, of course, significant dissimilarities with Britten’s work aside from musical language. Britten chose the very much non-religious French poems of Arthur Rimbaud to set. Finzi’s chosen text selects from the writings of the metaphysical English clergyman, Thomas Traherne. Britten’s string writing seems deliberately to eschew the ‘established’ English string-writing tradition in favour of the more atmospheric, occasionally impressionist palette of continental composers.

To find the forerunners of Dies Natalis it is sensible to look in two places. Firstly, Finzi was in no way short of exemplars for string writing in the music of early twentieth century British composers. The list is extensive: Elgar’sIntroduction and Allegro for Strings; Parry’sAn English Suite and similar works; Vaughan Williams’Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, etc; and Holst’s St Paul’s Suite. Interestingly, however, none of these composers chose to write a solo cantata of a similar nature to Finzi’s work. The second place to look is, perhaps, the early eighteenth century.

Diana McVeagh has promoted the idea that Finzi’s exposure to Bach in 1926 can be linked to the style of ‘The Salutation’, the final movement of Dies Natalis, influencing also his use of the term ‘Aria’ at the head of the movement. In terms of texture, this would certainly be at one with the wider sense of contrapuntal writing (in its broadest, non-academic, sense – see Banfield for an account of Finzi’s view of ‘academic’ counterpoint as studied under Bairstow) which characterises Dies Natalis. This is another significant link to preceding English string music, for example the fugal middle section of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro and, in less serious mode, perhaps, Holst’s St Paul’s Suite. It also foreshadows Finzi’s interest in the music of earlier, eighteenth century English composers which he was to promote, such as that by Mudge and Stanley. The solo vocal cantata was a staple of the early eighteenth century, composed for both secular and sacred occasions. (Few were fortunate to have texts of such depth and sophistication as those selected by Finzi from the writings of Thomas Traherne).

The significance of this textural decision to write in a linear style is not to be underestimated and it is a hallmark of the composer’s style. Many of Finzi’s contemporaries pursued a much more homophonic approach to writing, with emphasis on rich sonorities achieved by building up complex harmony, either by adding additional thirds to the basic triad or chromatic alteration of notes. Both devices are common, for example in the songs of John Ireland, to expressive effect, and the occasional consternation of pianists faced with fistfuls of added-note chords. (A good example occurs in the third verse of the ever-popular Sea Fever.)Finzi also frequently gives cause for pianists to practice at length but the challenge more often comes from grappling with combination within the two hands of independent lines of musical thought. The final song of Earth and Air and Rain is a good example. Even the apparently innocuous chordal writing of ‘To Lizbie Browne’contains snatches of imitation within the piano accompaniment and, importantly, between the vocal line and the piano. An interesting parallel with the final movement of Dies Natalis can be found in ‘When I set out for Lyonesse’. In the outer stanzas of this setting, Finzi places the voice in counterpoint to the melodic idea in the piano – interesting to ponder which came first, in fact. Finzi’s inclination to write because he heard ideas in the text instinctively gives few clues here – it may just as easily have been the march-like tread of the accompaniment that sprang to mind first. Before leaving Finzi’s approach to texture in songs with piano accompaniment it is instructive also to note the plentiful use of rests in his accompaniment figures. The ‘space’ that these create in the musical texture is directly akin to Finzi’s technique in Dies Natalis. A good example is ‘Two Lips’ from I Said To Love. Constant quaver rests at the start of the righthand phrases in the piano set up that part’s independence, notably contrasting with the way most vocal lines begin on a crotchet; and not always an upbeat crotchet – the second phrase of the song moves the voice’s entry to the second beat of the bar. These details are typical of Finzi’s subtle inflections, which have an impact on texture as well as on the rhythmic construction of Finzi’s settings. In the rhythmic and textural freedoms Finzi achieved in his text setting, he jumped further away from the stylistic traits of preceding generations of English song writers than he is often given credit for.

In terms of timbre, Dies Natalis might prompt the unwary listener to expect little in the way of variety but this would be short sighted indeed. The possibilities of a high solo voice with string orchestra are exploited to the full within the ‘standard’ techniques of Finzi’s musical background. No ‘extended’ instrumental techniques here, but a thoughtful and often imaginatively responsive range of sounds to suit the text. This includes the possibilities to be exploited in the relationship between voice and strings. These pose a significant question about the work as a whole. The title page announces the work to be a ‘Cantata for Soprano (or Tenor) Solo and String Orchestra’. Yet the association of the work with the tenor voice is so strong that there is frequent surprise (apart from amongst aficionados!) when listeners learn that the first performance was given by that leading soprano of her day, Elsie Suddaby. The main point for consideration in any survey of Finzi’s approach to texture and timbre is not ‘who got there first’ (a soprano, but the tenors have long wrestled the work to become theirs) but what difference either voice may make to the sound and texture of the work. The second movement ‘Rhapsody’ provides a clear picture of the potential differences. In many places it appears that the music is written with the soprano voice in mind so that, often, the first violin line moves at parallel pitch, for example during the passage ‘I was entertained like an angel’. In several places this approach offers nuances which are very appealing. For example, after figure 3, the soprano voice sings ‘Heaven and earth did sing’ at exactly the same pitch as the first violin, but on the word ‘sing’ the violin ascends the interval of a fourth to add almost a halo to the word. Such touches are apparent when the solo voice is a tenor, of course, but the sense of close affinity between voice and the top line of the string orchestra cannot be replicated. Indeed, performing the work with a tenor creates several issues of balance not unlike those associated with cello concertos. The tenor voice inevitable sits in the middle of the string textures and at times wrestles for due prominence, particularly when double-stopping or divisi passages increase the density of sound in the octave extending upwards from g below middle C. None of these points is insoluble but such issues are significant factors to be considered in any performance of the work. At times, of course, the use of tenor soloist adds to the sound world immeasurably. The opening of ‘The Salutation’ creates a ‘mellow’ timbre by throwing much emphasis on the sound of the viola in its lowest register. The violins imitate, and take the music to a climax in the middle of the movement, but in the outer sections, the movement belongs to the viola, as is evident when its melody closes the entire work. This pitch sits directly parallel with the range of the tenor voice, so that a lasting aural memory is of a duet-like sound between tenor and viola. The sound world created by a soprano voice, sitting high above the accompaniment for most of the movement is a very different one, though appealing and equally affecting.

For the most part, contrasts of texture within the work are created through Finzi’s imaginative and skilful writing for strings. It is here that the techniques inherent in works by his predecessors are capitalised upon and presented afresh at the service of Traherne’s imagery. Discussion of the opening instrumental movement is reserved to the end of this article so that immediate focus remains on Finzi’s textural use of both voice and strings.

The extended ‘Rhapsody’ is a compendium of string-writing techniques which would be demeaned by simply making a list. The point is that each technique fits its text like a glove. An example is the very end of the movement where a string quartet-like texture is ideally suited to the mood, allowing space for thought in its simplicity, heightened by the absence of the double bass. (Finzi’s use of the double bass throughout the work deserves an article of its own as he employs the ’16 foot’ buy ambien generic online option, as organists would recognise it, with unerring skill and economy (possibly because he wasn’t an organist). The texture here fittingly matches the tonal uncertainty with which the movement ends, an unresolved a minor, in relation to the movement’s overall tonal centre of G. The climax of the movement, ‘I saw all’, is heightened by rich divisi writing, tonally securely based on a drone between double bass and second cello. The rising, tremolo scales in sixths between violas and first cellos are consistent with a textural idea which recurs in the movement. It is particularly telling as an accompaniment to’ strange and wonderful things’. The sixth, perhaps the archetypal consonant interval (think Donizetti) is tellingly employed to create the atmosphere of sweetness, but within a harmonic background which is by no means clichéd. Similarly, Finzi frequently doubles musical lines instruments an octave apart. Probably one of the most telling and memorable moments in the movement is the series of static chords on the words ‘The corn was orient and immortal wheat’, surely one of Traherne’s most enduring images that Finzi chose to set (see Diana McVeagh for detail on Finzi’s being ‘composer enough to be ruthless’ in his selective treatment of Traherne’s text). Here the spacing is worthy of the opening of Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia, and any aural link it creates is surely a beneficial one in terms of mood. Strangely, this is none of the few truly recitative-like moments in this extended movement, in the usual sense of the term. There’s little obvious recitative in terms of giving metrical licence to the singer, although rhythmic flexibility is paramount in any performance. Overall, the movement has melodic and rhythmic drive for the most part, which links the sometimes disparate and often challenging text, in terms of comprehension. Repetition of the types of texture described above adds much to the coherence of this extended movement.
The ‘danza’ in the next movement, as Finzi describes ’The Rapture’, owes much to the exuberance of the opening string trills, although these disappear fairly quickly (a pity, in some ways) with just a backward glance given to them at the close of the movement. They are, perhaps, unusually extrovert for Finzi?The potential weight of the exuberance at the beginning is offset by constant use of divisi pizzicato chords in the lower strings to accompany the melodic upper parts, which now frequently move in thirds, as opposed to the sixths of the previous movement. The pizzicato chords, though heavy-looking on the page, create a highly unusual sound world in the way they move rapidly across different octaves. This is perhaps one of the most individual moments in terms of timbre in the whole work. In some ways, the middle section is less original in its texture, although beautiful in its solo melody. The repeated accompaniment quavers maintain momentum, but one is always glad to have return of the pizzicato idea.
Movement four, ‘Wonder’ offers the most complex textures of the work. Headed ‘Arioso’, the structural flexibility this implies is put to excellent use to respond to some of the most reflective lines Finzi selected from Traherne. The recurrence of the word ‘how’ pinpoints this reflective quality. For example, the couplet:

The Skies, in their Magnificence, the lovely lively air,
Oh, how divine, how soft, how sweet, how fair!

The absence of any ‘action’, even though the words are spoken directly by the central child-figure, could render this problematic to set. Finzi responds intuitively to the meditative possibilities of the images. Partly, these images are reflected through simple contrasts, such as between the rich textures to support the singer at the words ‘So rich and great’ and the thinning out at the quieter passage ‘A Native Health’. Technically, though, these contrasts bear closer scrutiny. The emphasis on combining individual lines within the string orchestra is amplified by dividing each group, with the exception of the double bass line. Finzi’s instinctive practicality is to the fore here: the undivided double bass line indicates the clear possibility of performing the work with one player to each part if larger forces are not available. This would involve ten players. The necessity of the tenth results from Finzi adding to the divisi demands by requiring a solo first violin line (as well as other short solo passages). This strategy inevitably leads to consideration of what is the optimum number of players. The author has very successfully performed the work with ten players. The individual lines appear very clearly aurally although inevitably, at points in the score, at the cost of weight, particularly in the lower parts. Larger forces will supply greater weight but this also begins to pose challenges of balance and clarity. There is little doubt that the string orchestra envisaged is of the ‘chamber’ variety. The passages in thirds and sixths (and octaves) employed earlier in the work recur in this movement and their position spread across the string group means that clarity is essential. The passage ‘The Stars did entertain my Sense’ illustrates this well. Over-played, these lines will become stodgy as they interweave with accompanying lines. The fact that Finzi rarely employs block chords, but keeps all the parts fluid and melodic adds much to the beauty of the whole work, and particularly this movement, but demands a fine ear from conductor and players alike to discern relative significance and how best to communicate this. The opening of ‘Wonder’ illustrates another aspect of this approach, which recurs throughout the work, imitative writing. In the hands of a weak composer this can be wearisome, as motifs are ‘copied’ from part to part. Finzi’s skill lies in making imitation entirely natural and the essential fabric of the writing. At the opening, an upward motif containing small intervallic leaps, not always presented identically in melodic terms, occurs in every half bar, presented by each instrument in turn. The masterstroke is that the voice, when it enters on the words ‘How like an Angel came I down!’ presents a descending phrase, rhythmically slower and conjunct in melody. The strings are the backdrop to this musical idea, not an illustration, and the backdrop is woven of the upwardly driving phrase (a distant relative of ‘Lizbie Browne’, it has to be noted). Yet the descending idea has already been heard, as the ending of the upward phrase and, crucially, presented in the first bar in the violas’ line, as counterpoint to the upward phrase in the first violins. Finzi’s other, melodic master-stroke, is the modal inflexion he gives the descending idea when the voice presents it. Such techniques ensure an integrity and coherence in Finzi’s writing which underpins the whole movement. The more obvious ‘richness’ at phrases such as the one to accompany ‘I within did flow With Seas of Life like Wine’ rely on such secure technique for their effect. They are every bit the to the equal of Elgar’s string-writing in the Introduction and Allegro’ in terms of technical awareness and good judgement.

Several features of the final movement, ‘The Salutation’, have already been discussed. The term not yet proposed is ‘chorale prelude’, as remarked also by Diana McVeagh . The accompaniment figures in the strings provoke comparison with Bach’s approach to the contrapuntal interweaving that surrounds the melody in Bach’s works in this style. This is emphasised in the steady crotchet tread that characterises the bass line. As with Bach’s chorale preludes, the string music is capable of existing in its own right, although it is immeasurably transformed once the vocal line is added. The vocal line acts, though, as a pendant to the other music. Phrase structures frequently overlap between voice and strings, to emphasise their independence.

Consideration of the opening movement of the work, where the voice is absent, is inevitably skewed by the recognition that it is, indeed, an introduction, hence the title, ‘Intrada’. It is much more than this, having integrity as a string piece in its own right. The composer acknowledged this by including a conclusion for occasions when the movement is performed alone. If this ending is not used, the tonal structure of the movement is interesting. Like ‘Rhapsody’, the music ends, when acting as a prelude to the rest of the work, in a minor. In this context, this key is still further distant from the opening, which has a tonal centre of G, than is the case in ‘Rhapsody’. In terms of texture and timbre, the movement is conservative when compared with some later passages in the cantata. On the page, the score is reminiscent of the style of Elgar’s early Serenade for strings in terms of texture, as remarked also by Stephen Banfield . The complexities of later movements are seldom approached, even in the mini-climax engineered after rehearsal number 10. Many later devices are presaged, including after figure 8 the crotchet bass tread of ‘The Salutation’. In terms of timbre, the use of violins in their lowest register is notable, creating the warmth often associated with the composer. Significant, too, is the way in which passages apparently textured as ‘melody and accompaniment’ to the innocent ear, such as afterfigure 2, are in fact constructed of a series of descending scalic figures in all parts, carefully interlocking and commencing at different times. These form the counterpart to the rising figure which opens the whole work, imitative treatment of which forms the music logic of the movement’s conclusion from figure 12.

In terms of musical language, considering melody and harmony, many would charge Finzi’s style with being conservative for a piece composed in the late 1930s. In terms of texture and timbre it is both inventive, and also effective in renewing existing traditions of string writing. When combined with Finzi’s unsurpassed sensitivity to text and instinctive vocal responsiveness, these elements create a highly expressive and intense work which can be justifiably termed unique.

Martin Bussey