Gerald Finzi created for himself a life rooted in the English countryside. His family had settled in London probably during Mozart's lifetime. Finzi himself studied privately with Ernest Farrar, Edward Bairstow and R. O. Morris until his mid-20s. A slow, self-critical worker, he wrote much of his music over a spread of years.
His cantata Dies natalis (1925-39), to words by Thomas Traherne, is justly his best-known work, celebrating the freshness and wonder of the new-born world in music responsive to every verbal and emotive nuance. Such qualities, complementing a fundamental strain of stoic pessimism, made Finzi an ideal partner to Thomas Hardy, and he set over 50 of Hardy's poems, in songs which range from the homely to the magnificent 'Channel Firing'.
On his marriage to his artist wife Joy, Finzi moved to the country, in time building a fine house at Ashmansworth on the Hampshire Downs. There he collected his large library, his rare apple trees, his wide circle of friends. The war forced him to work in London, but in 1940 he started the Newbury String Players, with whom he came to give notable first performances and revivals of English 18th-century composers, among them Stanley, Boyce and Mudge. Through this work he undoubtedly refined his own string-writing, as is shown in the Clarinet Concerto.
In 1947 he collaborated with Edmund Blunden on the Ode for St Cecilia; the experience led to his Crees lectures on 'The Composer's Use of Words'. His major choral work, a setting of Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality, in which the bloom and the shadow of life are finely balanced, was performed in 1950. The next year Finzi learnt he had a form of leukaemia. His powerful Cello Concerto was composed under that stress, and was played at the Proms a few weeks before he died.
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