Gerald Finzi
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

“His music has deeply enriched my life,” wrote Bernard Hermann of fellow composer GERALD FINZI (1901-56), “and its uniqueness and lyrical utterance have been a source of inspiration to me.” Surprisingly, though young Finzi evinced a great interest in literature, he wasn’t thought musically talented. Still, he’d study: first with composer Ernest Farrar (whose death in the September 1918 Battle of Epehy made Finzi a lifelong pacifist), then with York Minster organist and pedagogue Edward Bairstow. Though interested in continental modernism, Finzi’s own compositions were relatively conservative, drawing from the English romanticism of Hubert Parry and pastoral inspirations of Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, the latter becoming Finzi’s close friend and advocate. In 1933, Finzi married the artist Joyce Black and they moved from London to rural Aldbourne, Wiltshire where he could walk “five or six hours on the downs and not a soul seen the whole time” and became deeply involved in apple cultivation. Finzi’s own subtle genius also flowered: the Thomas Hardy songs of “Earth and Air and Rain” (below); the cantata Dies Natalis, setting texts by 17th-century metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne; the astonishing clarinet and cello concertos (below). And what of those other works, merely curious or excellent? “Surely it is the total projection of an individual creative mind that really counts,” Finzi once told Vaughn Williams. “It’s worthwhile knowing that Homer could nod.”

EARTH AND AIR AND RAIN

CLARINET CONCERTO

CELLO CONCERTO

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Northrop Frye, Woody Guthrie, and Angelique Kidjo.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled (1894-1903) Generation.

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Historian, journalist, and poet Brian Berger is coeditor of New York Calling. He has written for many publications, a few of which even still exist.