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Gerald Finzi: His Life and Music (0) Paperback – 11 Dec 2013
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McVeagh's analyses unfailingly draw the reader's attention to the melodic and harmonic subtleties of Finzi's writing. At her best, as in a beautiful passage on Finzi and Hardy, she sings with a lyricism that matches Finzi's own. This book comes as a timely reminder that there should be a place for the finely wrought music of a minor master. --Times Literary Supplement
This has been long in preparation, but the wait has been worthwhile. Lucky the composer who finds so fair-minded, candid and scrupulous a biographer and one who writes so well...(McVeagh's) analyses achieve the rare distinction of being both illuminating and readable. This is one of the best-written books about a musician to appear for many years. --BBC Music Magazine
(Now) we have McVeagh at last, so good and so well written that those who already possess...other books must have it, not only to complement them but for the sheer pleasure afforded by such a winning combination of scholarship, insight and clear-eyed humanity.. their belief will be reinforced and intensified by Miss McVeagh's candour and her remarkable achievement in writing not only a good biography but in re-creating the atmosphere of English musical life in the half-century of Finzi's life. --Finzi Newsletter
(T)he author's style is very easy indeed, informal and communicative. RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS SOCIETY JOURNAL
The book is very well researched and immensely informative. (...) From reading this particular biography, there is also the wish to read mo
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This thoroughly researched and well written book provides all the information about this English composer that any reader would be likely to require. McVeagh already has a highly praised biography of Edward Elgar to her credit. Finzi taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1930 to 1933, but in 1933 he married Joy Black and the couple retired to the countryside around Newbury to grow varieties of apples - some 350 of them when the orchards were at their peak. Finzi was born in London, the last of five children. Although nominally retired from 1933 when he was only 32, some of his best known compositions were still to come - the concertos for clarinet (1949), for piano (1953) and for cello (1955); and the wonderful setting of Wordsworth's `Intimations of Immortality' (1938 & 1950). The settings of poet Thomas Hardy span a number of years (1928-1936), and these also rate amongst his best loved compositions. McVeagh's biography gives us the background to these works and is laid out chronologically up to his early death at the age of only 55. There is a catalogue of his works, details of the repertoire of the Newbury String Players that Finzi and his wife Joy inaugurated in 1940; a quite detailed Bibliography of other books about the composer; and an Index.
Diana McVeagh describes the emotional bleakness of Finzi's early life: he seems to have had little time for his parents or his siblings, though by the end of the First World War he was the only survivor apart from his mother, someone he appeared to tolerate rather than love. The tendency to judge others who were not artistic is a notable characteristic of the young man, though after marriage, he mellowed considerably. He did not have a school education and even when he began to study music seriously, he studied privately with Ernest Farrar, whom he idolised, and later Herbert Sumsion, organist at Gloucester Cathedral. Farrar was killed during the war and this affected the young Finzi deeply. Sumsion was to remain a life-long friend of the Finzi family.
Finzi started to produce serious work in the late 1920s, the best known composition being By Footpath and Stile, a cycle of six songs. Around this time he met Howard Ferguson, yet another young composer and they also remained friends for life. In these early years, Finzi avoided academic and city life as far as possible, preferring to live in the country. While staying at a cottage, he met his future wife, Joy Black. Joy kept a journal during their marriage and McVeagh makes considerable use of this to guide us through the rest of their life together.
In 1939, the couple settled in Ashmansworth in northern Hampshire, where they had a house built to their specifications. Here the composer had his own library and studio, away from the noise of the two sons, who later formed their family. Their grew apples in the orchard and Finzi became an expert on varieties of British apple and played an important part in their conservation. Later he formed the Newbury String Players, an amateur orchestra he directed to the end of his life.
Diana McVeagh describes the important editorial work that Finzi did with neglected English composers of the baroque period, especially John Stanley. He also made considerable efforts to publish the songs of Ivor Gurney. There is the feeling of a life lived in pastoral tranquillity, apart from the period of the last war when he was seconded to do government administrative work in London. He had a private income but was not wealthy: McVeagh relates that while Finzi would spend considerable amounts on books of poetry, Joy was kept on a tight household budget, to the alarm of friends. Throughout the book, well known figures from the English musical scene of the time come and go - whether it be the Finzis spending the weekend with the Blisses, or the Rubbras or Vaughan Williamses having a country rest in Ashmansworth.
In 1951, Finzi was found to be suffering from what is now called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and from then on knew his time was limited. He had radiotherapy at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, and eventually had his spleen removed. He seemed to get on reasonably well, until the Finzis went to the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in 1956. Afterwards, he went, with Vaughan Williams and his wife Ursula, to visit the church at Chosen Hill, a sentimental pilgrimage . The two composers were invited into the sexton's cottage, where tragically for Finzi, the children were suffering from chickenpox. After a few days, he developed shingles and then a fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). He was only 55 and this leaves a feeling of waste. Finzi was a painstaking artist who worked on his pieces over the years, sometimes decades. A composer of his sort needs time above all. Nevertheless, he has left us some exquisite music - he would have loved (and often described) the thought of shaking hands with those yet unborn - across the years - sharing his vision of beauty.
McVeagh's biography is interspersed with analyses of Finzi's main works. These are quite technical but should not prove a barrier to reading this fine book. You will probably know his music to some extent as many people read books about composers because they love the music and want to know more of the person who composed it.
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