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The music of Finzi is underrated and fully deserving of further exploration, says Jane Jones.
It’s safe to say that Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) is one of Britain’s most underrated composers. Perhaps because his life was short and his output relatively small that he never achieved the fame and success of, say, Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst or William Walton. But there’s so much beauty to discover in Finzi’s music, which sounds so typically English despite his roots which were Italian, German and Jewish.
The death of Finzi’s first music teacher Ernest Farrar in the First World War affected him deeply, as did the loss of his father and three of his brothers also during his formative years. This sadness and bleak worldview infused most of the composer’s music, even from an early age.
Perhaps another factor in Finzi’s relative obscurity was his dislike of London city life and its scene. He settled in Wiltshire, where he devoted himself to composing and apple-growing, saving a number of rare English apple varieties from extinction.
This elegiac quality and a profound love of the English countryside is evident in Finzi’s Romance in Eb major, a short but beautiful piece written in 1928. It seems that the raw emotion of losing his father, brothers and music teacher is still infused into its yearning passages. The music is reminiscent of Elgar at his most rapturous - and deeply touching, anticipating the languid melodic lines underpinned by pizzicato basses of his later clarinet concerto.
Finzi only published his Romance in 1951 after some revision. He would live just five more years, dying the day after a broadcast of the first performance of his Cello Concerto on the radio. Surely it’s time for Finzi’s music to become better known and appreciated.