The Finzi Bowl

All images and text reproduced with permission of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.


The bowl was engraved by Laurence Whistler and his son Simon, the pictorial part of the bowl being the work of Laurence and the musical settings that of Simon. The bowl was commissioned by Shirley Carson, a musician who often sang with the Finzis. She gave it to Gerald Finzi’s wife, Joy, who subsequently presented it to the Ashmolean Museum.

The building shown is the porch of St James’s Church, Ashmansworth. From the interior of the porch come the words Thou art my joy from Robert Bridges’s poem My spirit sang all day, which Finzi set as a part-song. Light is seen shining from a window in the porch onto the Gerald Finzi memorial stone. The window at Ashmansworth is a Window to English Music engraved by Laurence Whistler in 1976. A musical quotation points to Finzi’s memorial stone. The words are the last two lines of Shakespeare’s song, Fear no more the heat of the sun, from Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene ii:


Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave.


Finzi’s setting of these lines occurs in his group of five Shakespeare songs, Let us garlands bring.

The swallows at the top signify the fleeting nature of life and remind us of Gerald Finzi’s early death aged fifty-five. The accompanying words ‘swiftness never ceasing are from a sonnet by Elizabethan poet George Peel, set to music by Finzi with another poem by Ralph Knevet under the title Farewell to Arms.

The swallows flew in the curves of an eight…

…is from a poem of Thomas Hardy, Overlooking the River Stour. Below these lines is an image of the bridge, trees and meadows that surround it and Hardy’s initials appear in the centre of the curves of the eight.

Hardy’s poetry is central to Finzi’s life and his music: this text is one of more than forty that Finzi set to music. These appeared as the song-cycles A Young Man’s Exhortation, Earth and Air and Rain, Before and after Summer, Till Earth Outwears and I said to Love.


The central tower of Gloucester Cathedral is shown surrounded by a garland of wheat, whose shape the pinnacles echo. Finzi had strong associations with the Gloucester area and close links with the Three Choirs Festival which links the cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester.

Beneath is a prose quotation from the seventeenth-century poet Thomas Traherne, from whom Finzi chose text for his cantata Dies Natalis. The musical setting of the text phrase appears above the main image.

Dies Natalis had been due to receive its first performance at the 1939 Three Choirs Festival but the festival was cancelled due to the outbreak of war. The work was eventually performed at the festival in 1946.


St Bartholomew’s Church on Chosen Hill above Churchdown, was a place of great significance for Finzi. During the 1920s, while living in Churchdown, Finzi sometimes joined the bell-ringers’ New Year celebration at the sexton’s cottage near the church.

Years later Finzi’s encounter with Robert Bridges’s poem Noel: Christmas Eve 1913 evoked memories of Chosen Hill and Finzi completed In Terra Pax (1954) combining selected texts from St Luke’s gospel and Bridges’ poem. The climax of the work is ‘Glory to God in the highest’, the music of which appears on the bowl above the church, surrounded by a galaxy of stars and angels.

While attending the Three Choirs Festival in 1956, the Finzi family visited Chosen Hill with Vaughan Williams to share the source of the inspiration for In Terra Pax. They revisited the sexton’s cottage, where Finzi contracted the chicken-pox virus which was to end his life some weeks later.

The bowl is available to view by appointment. Please address requests to the Dept of Western Art