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Arts Desk

On His Birthday, The Essence of Gerald Finzi

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Composer Gerald Finzi

This week we celebrate the birthday of the English composer Gerald Finzi, who was born July 14th, 1901 and died in 1956. His short life was filled with sorrow, but also with beauty—in his help for others, and in his music.

When Gerald Finzi was seven, his father died. Three brothers died while he was still young. His first composition teacher, who was very encouraging and who said that Finzi was shy but “full of poetry,” was killed in World War I.

Finzi devoured poetry, in fact, and turned much of it—poetry of Hardy and Rosetti—into art song. Vaughan Williams had gotten him a teaching position in London but Finzi longed for the country. He married and moved there, cultivated apple trees, even saving some varieties from extinction.

He cataloged and published the music of his friend, the fragile composer Ivor Gurney. Even though he loved solitude, during the Second World War he and his wife took European refugees into their home.

At 50 he learned he had Hodgkin’s disease, which was then incurable; he wouldn’t live out the decade. His Cello Concerto premiered the night before he died.

From this seemingly melancholy life Gerald Finzi sculpted music of soft, shimmering beauty. He never finished a piano concerto, but after his death one movement of it was published as Eclogue. The dictionary calls “eclogue” pastoral poetry. This is the essence of Gerald Finzi.