Roads less traveled: rediscovering the baritone song sets of Gerald Finzi.
When selecting English art song for male voices, the songs of Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) are often overlooked. With the exception of Let Us Garlands Bring, a set of five Shakespeare songs, Finzi's works are rarely included in standard vocal anthologies and are programmed less frequently than Vaughan Williams and Quilter. Yet these song sets provide a wonderful opportunity to explore Finzi's rich harmonic language and his sensitive poetic settings, particularly those of Thomas Hardy. This overview provides the singer with an introduction to Finzi, his compositional style, and his six song sets for baritone voice. Musical and pedagogic characteristics, range, and level of difficulty are noted, and a selected discography is included.
Gerald Raphael Finzi was born in London, England, on July 14, 1901. As the fifth and youngest child of an English shipbroker, Finzi experienced tragedy early in life. His father died of cancer when Finzi was seven years old, and his three older brothers also died early. His wife, Joyce ("Joy"), recalled that the remainder of Finzi's family, an elder sister and his mother, never completely understood his desire to compose. (1)
Nevertheless, as a teenager, Finzi expressed an interest in music. He studied composition with Ernest Farrer from 1914-1916, and then with Sir Edward Bairstow until 1922. In that year, Finzi moved to Painswick in Gloucestershire (the countryside of Elgar, Gurney, and Vaughan Williams), in order to isolate himself for study and composition. He returned to London in 1925 to study counterpoint with the noted theorist, Reginald Owen Morris. With the exception of these brief periods of formal music study, Finzi was a self-taught musician, a path that was highly atypical for British composers of his generation.
Likewise, his general education proved unusual. Failing to adjust well to preparatory school and stunned by the death of Farrer during World War I along with so many of his family during this time, Finzi drew inward. (2) Diana McVeagh suggests that these experiences "confirmed his introspective bent, his recourse to literature, and the sense of urgency in his dedication to music. (3) Finzi's many hours of solitude were filled with a fascination for literature, especially poetry. Throughout his life, he amassed a huge library that contained more books than musical scores.
Finzi's London years (1925 through the early 1930s) were filled with visits to theaters, art galleries, and concerts, including the premiers of new music by contemporary British composers. Finzi met Holst and Vaughan Williams during this time, and his circle of musical friends included Edmund Duncan-Rubbra and Howard Ferguson. Ferguson remained a close friend of Finzi throughout the latter's life and continued to be a proponent of Finzi's music long after the composer's death. As composers they sought each other's advice; and, beginning in the 1920s, together with Marion Scott and others, they were instrumental in collecting and editing many of Ivor Gurney's songs.
Finzi's only conservatory post was as a composition teacher at the Royal Academy of Music from 1930 to 1933. Apart from this position, Finzi spent his entire career as a freelance composer, preferring to work alone in the English countryside rather than be associated with the musical circles of Britain's major cities. McVeagh maintains that some of Finzi's freshest, most individual music was written during this early period of the 1920s and 1930s, including the celebrated tenor song cycle, A Young Man's Exhortation (composed between 1926 and 1929); the baritone collection, Earth and Air and Rain (1929-1932); and the cantata for high voice, Dies Natalis (1926; 1938-1939). Songs later incorporated into the sets To a Poet, Let Us Garlands Bring, and I Said to Love were also written during this time.
Finzi married Joyce Black, a sculptress, in 1933. The couple moved to Aldbourne in Wiltshire in 1935, and in 1937 built a home designed for their creative activities in the Hampshire hills at Ashmansworth. It was there that Finzi developed an orchard with over 400 varieties of apple trees, several of which he had saved from extinction. John Russell notes that Finzi would readily discuss the subjects of apples, nature, art, people, literature, cats (he typically cared for a dozen of them), and philosophy, but, interestingly, only rarely the subject of music. (4)
During World War II, Finzi worked as a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport, a position that left him with little time or energy for composition. Nevertheless, during this period Finzi formed the Newbury String Players in order to provide live music at a time when many public performances had ceased. Unlike many composers who are also proficient instrumentalists, Finzi had no experience performing music until he formed the Newbury String Players. (5)
Following the war, Finzi's compositional output increased. In 1949, he completed his baritone song set, Before and After Summer, the last set he would actually compile himself. In 1951, Finzi was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a form of leukemia, and was told by physicians that he had at most ten years to live. Soon after his diagnosis he wrote:
At 49 I feel I have hardly begun my work: "My thread is cut, and yet it is not spun, And now I live, and now my life is done." As usually happens, it is likely that new ideas, new fashions and the pressing forward of new generations will soon obliterate my small contribution. Yet I like to think that in each generation there may be a few responsive minds, and for them I should still like the work to be available. To shake hands with a good friend over the centuries is a pleasant thing, and the affection which one individual may retain after his departure is perhaps the only thing which guarantees an ultimate life to his work. (6)
Despite his illness, Finzi continued to compose, write articles, and edit manuscripts. In 1955, he presented the Crees lectures at the Royal College of Music. His compositions completed during this time were primarily vocal works and included "The birthright" (from To a Poet) and three of the five songs that would posthumously comprise I Said to Love.
As Finzi's resistance to infection weakened, he was exposed to chickenpox during the 1956 Gloucester Festival, which he attended with Vaughan Williams. Finzi died of complications from the disease on 27 September 1956 in Oxford, England.
Gerald Finzi's style reflects both the influence of others and a uniquely personal approach to musical composition. While predominant influences are clearly found in music of his contemporaries, Finzi was also intimately familiar with composers from previous centuries. Finzi's long, diatonic melodies are reminiscent of Bach, as is his use of imitative techniques. Eighteenth century dance rhythms are present in the solo songs. Vogel suggests that the cleanliness of textural lines and economical use of material indicate an intense study of the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth century composers. Romantic elements in Finzi's music include the frequent use of through-composed form and the generally close-knit vocal and accompaniment lines. (7)
Although Finzi employed aspects of baroque, classical, and romantic styles, most historians contend that it was the turn-of-the-century English composers who most obviously inspired Finzi's compositions. Finzi's style is linked with that of his teacher Bairstow (smooth, well disciplined inner parts, and moderation), Sir Hubert Parry (diatonic harmonies), and Edward Elgar (walking bass lines). William Walton also helped to shape Finzi's harmonic language, particularly in the songs written after 1931. Characteristic of Walton is Finzi's emphasis of tonic and dominant scale degrees, often with an inverted pedal point. (8) Of all Finzi's British contemporaries, Vaughan Williams can be said to have had the greatest impact on his work. Vaughan Williams's love of folk songs influenced Finzi's melodic style, although Finzi never directly quoted folk song themes in his work. Banfield suggests that Finzi's vocal lines became "quite unforced, natural, and often emotionally low-pitched and conversational through the study of Vaughan Williams's folk song settings." (9)
Despite his conservative style, Finzi championed other twentieth century composers and their techniques. He was particularly familiar with the work of Bartok, Schonberg, and Stravinsky, although his music rarely reflects the directions taken by these composers. Contemporary characteristics visible in his songs include the frequent use of unorthodox key and chord relationships, and tonalities that are often mixed or polychordal. Nevertheless, Finzi's tonalities never stray so far as to be unidentifiable.
The influence of several centuries of composers did not obscure the originality Finzi brought to his compositions. His predilection for setting seemingly difficult British texts while maintaining a lyric style makes the majority of his song sets accessible to a wide range of performers.
COMPOSITIONAL PROCESS AND STYLE
Finzi's compositional process provides the framework for an understanding of his individual style. Preferring to work in isolation in the English countryside, Finzi was a careful and methodic composer. Like Beethoven, Brahms, and Elgar, Finzi often worked on many compositions concurrently, and was he known to set sketches aside for months or even years before completing them. All of the song sets for baritone followed this procedure, from By Footpath and Stile, op. 2 (composed 1921-1922, 1925, and published in 1925) to I Said to Love (composed 1928, 1956, and published posthumously in 1958). Howard Ferguson notes that "writing was never a fluent business for him, and even the most spontaneous sounding song might have involved endless sketches, with possibly a break of years between its opening and closing verses." (10)
For Finzi, the choice of text was paramount in his vocal writing, and the poets he chose were both diverse and often challenging to set. Finzi drew from the poetry of Shakespeare, Milton, Rossetti, Traherne, Wordsworth, and even an ancient Sanskrit text ("On parent knees" from To a Poet).
Finzi's poet of choice for the vast majority of his song settings, however, was Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). He set over fifty of Hardy's poems, more than any other composer. His selection includes a wide range of verse forms, meters, and rhyme schemes. The creative union of Hardy and Finzi strongly reflected a shared and somewhat pessimistic worldview. Three themes emerge from the Hardy poems that Finzi set: the futility of war, the pressure of passing time, and the world's natural beauty and indifference to man. (11) That Finzi desired to set even more Hardy poetry is confirmed by his copy of the Collected Poems in which he lightly crossed through those he had set and marked many more that he wished to utilize. (12)
Finzi had strong feelings concerning the selection of poetic texts. In a personal letter to Ferguson in 1936, Finzi wrote,
I do hate the bilge and bunkum about composers trying to "add" to a poem; that a fine poem is complete in itself, and to set it is only to gild the lily, and so on. It's the sort of cliche which goes on being repeated ... Obviously a poem may be unsatisfactory in itself for setting, but that is a purely musical consideration--that it has no architectural possibilities; no broad vowels where climaxes should be, and so on. But the first and last thing is that a composer is moved by a poem and wishes to identify himself with it and share it ... John Herbert Sumsion hit the nail on the head the other day when ... he said of the composer of a dreadful Biblical cantata, "He chose his text, it didn't choose him" I don't think everyone realizes the difference between choosing a text and being chosen by one. (13)
Finzi's greatest contribution to song was his gift of setting English texts. He rarely used word painting and nearly always set texts syllabically. Ferguson notes that "the melodic line springs directly from the words, and one seems part and parcel of the other." (14) Additionally, it is the text that appears to determine melodic, harmonic, and textural decisions.
The musical form of the songs is closely linked to the poetic texts as well. In the case of Hardy's poetry, seldom is the same metrical pattern used twice. As a result, Finzi rarely duplicates his forms or employs strophic settings.
In formally grouping his songs, Finzi defies the common practice of creating song cycles. Banfield maintains that
Finzi did not wish the three major song sets to be regarded as cycles ... He claimed that in grouping the songs together for publication he was merely lessening the chances of a single song's being overlooked. Certainly it increases the likelihood of performance ... But in disclaiming the status of cycles for the song sets Finzi was being unduly modest. Admittedly there are not stories running through them, and the principle of variety is more important than unity, but there is at least good evidence of their having been built up with extreme care. (15)
Perhaps the greatest unifier among Finzi's song sets is that each contains the juxtaposition of more dramatic songs with those that are lighter and more colloquial in tone.
Reflective of his overall conservatism, Finzi's harmonic usage is primarily tonal. Within this framework, however, Finzi frequently mixes major and minor tonalities and avoids traditional dominant-tonic relationships. When these harmonies are used, they are often placed in inversions, which tend to weaken their cadential effect. Tonality is also blurred by mediant and submediant chords, often in first inversion. More rarely, chromaticism is used to create dissonance as well as to reflect the mood of the text.
Closely tied to harmony in Finzi's songs is his treatment of melody. The lyric and straightforward melodic style stems from the English folk song tradition. Occasionally, his melodies are based on pentatonic scales. Generally, Finzi's melodies lie within comfortable ranges, providing relatively few problems for the vocalist.
In many ways, Finzi's conservative compositional style is also evident in his use of rhythm. McCoy states that "often a single prominent rhythmic figure will become the basic rhythmic generator for an entire work or section of a work." (16) Although not startling in effect, Finzi commonly inserts changing meters in songs containing an otherwise consistent metric pattern. Like other aspects of his vocal style, Finzi's rhythmic writing is an outgrowth of the poetic text, highlighting the natural flow of the English language. His mastery in this area is especially evident in the Hardy settings, which are generally regarded as difficult to set.
Finzi's piano accompaniments play important roles in his solo songs. He was not a pianist, and this is illustrated in occasional piano writing that does not lie well under the hand. Nevertheless, the keyboard part is closely aligned with the voice and is often imitative in nature. Although it is common for twentieth century song composers to limit the role of the piano interlude, Finzi often gives the instrument extended solo opportunities. These interludes are important in setting, enhancing, and expressing changes in mood of the texts. (17)
In an era when music was breaking common practice period boundaries, Finzi developed a personal style that presented lyricism and tonality in a new light. His quintessentially English art songs provide singers with a wealth of possibilities for study and performance.
THE SONG SETS FOR BARITONE VOICE
While certainly not an exhaustive study, Finzi's six song sets for low voice are introduced below. Significant elements of each song are explored to provide a window into Finzi's unique compositional style. Textual setting, accompaniments, and vocal considerations form the basis of discussions and are supported with musical examples where appropriate. Pedagogic suggestions are also included.
Before and After Summer, opus 16
Texts: Thomas Hardy
Date of Composition: 1930s-1949
Performing Forces: Song set for baritone and piano
Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes (1949)
First Performance: Robert Irwin and Frederick Stone on October 17, 1949
"Childhood among the ferns" (1947-48)
Range: B[flat]2-F4 Approximate Duration: 3'15"
Reflecting Hardy's common themes of nature and time, "Childhood among the ferns" ponders the question of why one has to grow into adulthood. The piano introduction foreshadows motives of sun and rain used later in the song. The arched phrases and frequent wide intervals of the vocal line require finesse from the singer to create a legato line.
"Before and after summer" (1949)
Range: A[flat]2-F4 Approximate Duration: 2'30"
This selection presents scenes from February and October, the seasons before and after summer. Finzi creates text painting in accompaniment figures that sound like rain and sleet in the first half of the song. The continuous eighth notes of the accompaniment propel the vocal line forward. The piano interlude cleverly modulates from B[flat] minor to B minor, and rhythmic augmentation sets up the shadowy and introspective second half.
"The self-unseeing" (before 1940)
Range: G2-F4 Approximate Duration: 2'30"
Hardy wrote this poem as a reflection on the death of his father. There is a feeling of weariness created by the slow, march-like prelude, as well as the use of words such as "footworn" and "dead feet." The singer should treat the recitative-like opening section in a staid manner with hushed dynamics. The text continues with a scene from the past, energized by Finzi's accompaniment and a high vocal tessitura. The poem ends, as it begins, in the present with Hardy inferring that appreciation for an event often comes too late. There is unrest in the piano accompaniment until the final chord.
"Overlooking the river" (1940)
Range: D3-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 2'20"
Finzi sensitively sets this scene of birds along a river by utilizing flowing sixteenth notes in the piano score for the first three verses. However, Hardy often adds a twist toward the end of his poems that change the tone and mood. In the concluding measures of this song, the poet suggests that viewing the birds kept him from seeing "the more behind my back" (Example 1). (18) Diana McVeagh suggests that Finzi meets the compositional challenge of Hardy's textual twists by using unconventional tonality to end some of his songs. (19) In "Overlooking the river," E[flat] major bends to the key of F minor at the conclusion.
"Channel firing" (1940)
Range: G2-F4 Approximate Duration: 6'05"
This hauntingly dramatic song is the most celebrated of the set and describes the insanity of war. This selection requires an excellent pianist to accommodate the challenging rhythmic and technical aspects. The nearly two-octave range for the vocalist demands a singer who is at ease in both the high and low tessituras.
"In the mind's eye" (n.d.)
Range: D3-F4 Approximate Duration: 1'45"
Finzi's setting of "In the mind's eye" begins with a piano introduction of three five-note statements, each outlining a tritone. The accompaniment is highly chromatic and requires sensitivity so that the vocalist is not covered. Together, singer and pianist create a scene in which a phantom recalls a past love. The vocalist needs to be at ease in the higher tessitura.
"The too short time" (1940)
Range: A3-F4 Approximate Duration: 2'50"
Summer and love are both fleeting in this setting of Hardy's poem. Finzi creates an ethereal mood in the introduction through the use of the pianissimo dynamics, the initially high range of the piano, and the floating melodic figures. A recitative-like first stanza is followed by a more metrically stable second stanza. The singer, unlike the earlier songs in the set, needs to navigate in the lower tessitura with flexibility.
Range: B2-E4 Approximate Duration: 2'
Finzi presents Hardy's three-stanza love poem in an ABA form. The outer sections are light and energetic while the middle is a bit more sustained and subdued dynamically. The accompaniment is reminiscent of "When I set out for Lyonesse." "Epeisodia" is full of alliteration, so the singer needs to provide crisp consonants and a supple lower end for the B section.
"Amabel" (before 1932)
Range: B[flat]2-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 2'30"
Finzi's setting of "Amabel" is similar to his "To Lizbie Browne." The songs share the same key and range, and Hardy's texts use the women's names to end each stanza. "Amabel" is a good selection for a sophomore or junior undergraduate major. The melody is doubled by the accompaniment throughout and the range is not taxing. The only difficulty may be the last phrase which ends on a low B[flat]2.
"He abjures love" (1938)
Range: A2-E4 Approximate Duration: 4'05"
The last song of the set is certainly the most difficult. The text is pessimistic and dark, the ensemble is challenging due to the many tempo changes, and the accompaniment is technically demanding. The vocal line is very disjunct, except for the Meno mosso section (mm. 89-105). The last section, Ancor meno mosso, requires a sublime approach to the powerful text.
Comparable in length and style to Earth and Air and Rain, Before and After Summer is somewhat more difficult to perform in its entirety. Overall, this song set requires the ability to comfortably sing a higher tessitura, which may pose challenges for some undergraduates.
By Footpath and Stile, opus 2
Texts: Thomas Hardy
Date of Composition: 1921-1922, 1925, with revisions in 1940 and 1941
Performing Forces: Song cycle for baritone and string quartet
Publisher: J. Curwen, 1925 (withdrawn); Boosey and Hawkes, 1984
First Performance: Sumner Austin, Charles Woodhouse String Quartet, October 24, 1923
"Paying calls" (revised 1941)
Range: D3-D4 Approximate Duration: 3'45"
"Paying calls" begins with a long introduction by the string quartet and includes a rocking motive that remains throughout the song. The vocal melody is small in compass, but this allows the singer to incorporate a wonderful palate of nuances. The melody does not present any difficult rhythmic or melodic passages.
"Where the picnic was" (n.d.)
Range: C3-D4 Approximate Duration: 4'
Finzi utilizes the string accompaniment to accentuate the various moods in the second song of this cycle. Once again, the vocal range is somewhat limited (only a ninth), but the singer needs to employ a wide range of dynamics.
"The oxen" (revised 1940)
Range: B2-E4 Approximate Duration: 2'40"
In "The oxen," Finzi presents a melodic theme in the first violin part that acts as a refrain throughout the song. Finzi's setting of the last vocal phrase against the static accompaniment is particularly effective. The singer needs to be rhythmically accurate, especially in sections such as mm. 18-21 that involve tempo fluctuations.
"The master and the leaves" (n.d.)
Range: A2-F#4 Approximate Duration: 2'45"
After the slower tempi of the first three songs of the cycle, Finzi employs a refreshingly faster tempo in "The master and the leaves." This song also presents ensemble challenges due to tempo variations and overall presto giocoso tempo. The singer may find the higher tessitura demanding. This song and the remaining three in the set are best suited to the advanced singer.
"Voices from things growing in a churchyard" (n.d.)
Range: B2-F4 Approximate Duration: 6'30"
This arioso-like song describes the regeneration of six people from a graveyard. Certainly it is one of Finzi's longest songs, and perhaps the most ambitious. The singer and string quartet must characterize six different people, as well as convey difficult prose, which may strain the comprehension of the listener. Furthermore, it is necessary that the vocalist have the ability to sing with finesse, especially when describing Lady Gertrude. The vocal line in mm. 96-100 illustrates the wider range and angularity that will pose a challenge to the singer (Example 2).
"Exeunt omnes" (n.d.)
Range: D3-G4 Approximate Duration: 3'15"
"Exeunt omnes" concludes the cycle by recalling elements of three earlier songs and utilizing an accompaniment in the last two vocal phrases that recalls the first song's rocking motive. This last song begins with the string quartet sustaining open D minor triads while the voice sings about those around the protagonist who are dying. The protagonist sings of an "air of blankness" and ends by declaring that he, too, will join the others.
This song cycle, the only true cycle in Finzi's baritone output, is less accessible to undergraduate singers because of the subject matter and the performing forces required. Finzi withdrew the work and planned to revise it, but completed revisions of only the first and third songs. Howard Ferguson edited the cycle for republication in 1981, providing a piano reduction for rehearsal purposes and adding dynamic markings. (20) The work has received little attention, as evidenced by the lateness of the first recording in 2006.
Earth and Air and Rain, opus 15
Text: Thomas Hardy
Dates of Composition: 1928-1932
Performing Forces: Song set for baritone and piano
Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes (1936)
First Performance: Robert Irwin and Gerald Moore on July 2, 1945
"Summer schemes" (n.d.)
Range: A2-E4 Approximate Duration: 2'30"
The Hardy poetry of "Summer schemes" conjures up images of a life close to nature. A lilting and fresh energy is created by the running eighth notes of the accompaniment throughout much of the selection, interrupted only at the ends of stanzas or to punctuate the vocal text. Finzi utilizes a number of tempo fluctuations to emphasize the expectancy of the text.
"When I set out for Lyonnesse" (n.d.)
Range: B[flat]2-E4 Approximate Duration: 2'05"
According to Arthurian legend, Lyonnesse is a country situated next to Cornwall that has long since sunk beneath the sea. This song is a vocal march that is propelled by a highly rhythmic accompaniment figure that supports the protagonist's purposeful march toward Lyonnesse. The text is autobiographic, recalling Hardy's visit to Cornwall where he fell in love with his first wife, Emma Gifford.
"Waiting both" (1929)
Range: C3-F4 Approximate Duration: 3'15"
"Waiting both" is based on an imaginary conversation between the protagonist and a star. This ethereal setting, aided by the vast range of the accompaniment and a slow tempo, creates a contemplative atmosphere. The singer needs finesse when approaching the high F4 in the phrase, "Till my change come" (mm. 18-19).
"The phantom" (1932)
Range: C3-F4 Approximate Duration: 3'15"
Once again, Hardy reflects upon his first wife, Emma, depicting her as a phantom riding along the Cornish cliffs. The dotted eighth-sixteenth-eighth accompaniment pattern creates the effect of a galloping horse. There are several dramatic places throughout the song that require the note F4 sung with full voice.
"So I have fared" (1928)
Range: A2-D4 Approximate Duration: 2'30"
Hardy incorporates a Latin phrase at the end of each of the song's six stanzas, seemingly directed to a deity. Finzi gives directions that these phrases should be sung like Anglican chant. The recitative-like song reveals one of Hardy's poetic themes-the persistent pace of time.
Range: A2-E4 Approximate Duration: 1'35"
Finzi rarely used strophic form, but "Rollicum-Rorum" is one example and is set to a lighthearted accompaniment. The text illustrates a light and humorous side of Hardy, rarely seen but especially wonderful in the nonsensical refrain. The first stanza is:
When Lawyers strive to heal a breach And Parsons practice what they preach; Then Boney he'll come pouncing down, And march his men on London town! Rollicumrorum, tollollorum, Rollicumrorum, tollollay! Rollicumrorum, tollolorum, Rollicumrorum, tollollay! (22)
Finzi deftly sets the text to a challenging accompaniment, which, at times, is a bit awkward to navigate.
"To Lizbie Browne" (n.d.)
Range: B[flat]2-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 4'10"
This beautiful ballad is based upon the reminiscences of a lost love. The protagonist sings about the many opportunities that he let slip by without showing his love. The one-phrase refrain of Lizbie's name is deftly changed to reflect the sentiment of the protagonist. Although this selection emphasizes softer dynamics, the singer should always keep the voice focused and warm.
"The clock of the years" (n.d.)
Range: F#2-F#4 Approximate Duration: 3'55"
One of Finzi's most dramatic songs, "The clock of the years" begins with a spoken phrase followed by a flurry of thirty-second notes in the piano. The opening four measures depict a spirit's dialogue with a lover seeking to turn time back to see his dead love again (Example 3). The text is set with frequently changing meters in an arioso style with brief piano interludes. If the singer has difficulty with the pitches F#2 or F#4, Finzi has inserted alternate pitches that may be sung.
"In a churchyard: Song of the yew tree" (1932)
Range: A2-D4 Approximate Duration: 3'20"
Hardy utilizes the yew tree as the storyteller in this poem depicting the plight of mankind. Life would be peaceful, the yew maintains, if only the living could find contentment and satisfaction with their lot in life. The disjunct melodic line may challenge the singer.
"Proud songsters" (n.d.)
Range: B2-D4 Approximate Duration: 3'05"
This Hardy text illustrates the cycle of life through the beautiful images of birds. The piece opens with a substantial piano introduction reminiscent of Schumann and recalling rhythmic material from "The phantom." The singer will need to be rhythmically accurate as the greatest difficulty of this piece lies in synchronizing the voice and accompaniment.
Overall, Earth and Air and Rain provides the singer with a wide gamut of emotions to explore and portray. The work is very effective programmed in its entirety, but undergraduates may successfully select several songs from the set to perform as a group.
I Said to Love: Six Songs for Low Voice and Piano, opus posthumous (19b)
Text: Thomas Hardy
Dates of Composition: 1928-1956
Performing Forces: Song set for baritone and piano
Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes (1958)
First Performance: John Carol Case and Howard Ferguson on January 27, 1957
"I need not go" (before 1936)
Range: C#3-E4 Approximate Duration: 1'35"
The vocal line is conjunct with no intervals larger than a fifth. In general, the contour of the line reflects the natural inflections of the spoken text. The accompaniment is homophonic.
"At middle-field gate in February" (1956)
Range: B2-E4 Approximate Duration: 3'20"
The bleak winter scene Hardy creates at the poem's opening clearly illustrates the damp, lifeless season. This is juxtaposed with the final section of the song which looks back pastorally to a time of sun and flowers. Typical of Hardy, there is a bitter twist at the very end--all the beauty is now underground. The vocal line is mainly conjunct with few intervals larger than a fourth.
"Two lips" (1928)
Range: C3-F4 Approximate Duration: 55"
Like much of Hardy's poetry, "Two lips" portrays two contrasting themes. The first stanza describes the protagonist full of joy at being in love, while the second stanza ends with the protagonist kissing his love on her death bed. The vocal line contains the interval of a seventh for the first time in the set. Additionally, the singer's range is extended in this song. The brevity of the work captures the intense joy and sorrow of the text.
"In five-score summers" (1956)
Range: C#3-E4 Approximate Duration: 1'35"
The piano and vocal lines are blended closely in this homophonic song. Frequently, the accompaniment doubles the vocal line. Written in the year of Finzi's death, this song is a musing on the future and individual mortality.
"For Life I had never cared greatly" (n.d.)
Range: A2-F#4 Approximate Duration: 2'15"
Containing the widest vocal range of the set, this song employs folk-like qualities in the melodic line. The accompaniment supports the vocal line with full chords placed on the strong beat of each measure, often doubling the vocal melody.
"I said to Love" (1956)
Range: C3-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 3'
"I said to Love" opens with a fanfare-like piano introduction followed by the singer's declaration of love. A cadenza-like piano part in m. 50 depicts love departing. This song's accompaniment is the most difficult of the set, requiring an accomplished player. Finzi matches the harshness of the text with virtuosic challenges for vocalist and pianist alike.
The set is appropriate for a more advanced undergraduate or graduate-level singer. Of the six songs, numbers four and six are the most challenging. I Said to Love was put together after Finzi's death by Howard Ferguson, Joy Finzi, and Christopher Finzi.
Let Us Garlands Bring: Five Shakespeare Songs, opus 18
Text: William Shakespeare
Dates of Composition: 1929-1942
Performing Forces: Song set for baritone and piano or strings
Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes (1942)
First Performance: Robert Irwin and Howard Ferguson at the
National Gallery on October 12, 1942, and dedicated to Ralph Vaughan Williams on his 70th birthday.
"Come away, come away, death" (1938)
Range: A#2-D2 Approximate Duration: 2'55"
Finzi sets up this beautiful and powerful Shakespeare text with a dirge-like accompaniment figure in B minor. The opening illustrates his skill with word painting and his ability to balance phrases both rhythmically and melodically (Example 4). Both the pianist and vocalist have independent lines, creating many exquisite moments. The vocal phrases are irregular in length, but certainly accessible for the undergraduate singer.
"Who is Sylvia?" (n.d.)
Range: A2-D2 Approximate Duration: 1'25"
This Shakespeare text is set by Finzi in an Allegro tempo. A highly energetic and bright accompaniment figure enables the vocalist to happily expound on the protagonist's love for his sweetheart. The vocal line contains few wide leaps, making it an excellent choice for younger singers.
"Fear no more the heat o' the sun" (1929)
Range: B[flat]2-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 1'45"
The melody, set in a Grave tempo, is doubled by a chordal accompaniment figure until the end, when the vocalist sings over a static chordal accompaniment in a recitative-like chant. This somber yet powerful song demands depth and vocal color in the lower tessitura.
"O mistress mine" (1942)
Range: B[flat]2-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 1'45"
This song is propelled by a somewhat driving accompaniment, which relaxes at the end of each of the two stanzas. It contains a few disjunct melodic lines, which may present some difficulty for the singer.
"It was a lover and his lass" (1940)
Range: A2-E4 Approximate Duration: 2'30"
The last song of this set may present some challenges for the pianist and vocalist. Both parts are somewhat independent from each other and also contain rhythmic difficulties such as syncopated entrances.
Let Us Garlands Bring would be very accessible for the undergraduate voice major. Of all Finzi's baritone sets, this one is the most frequently programmed. The individual songs stand alone well as they contain no thematic relationships.
To a Poet, posthumous opus (13a)
Text: Various poets
Date of Composition: 1935-1956
Performing Forces: Song set for baritone and piano
Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes (1965)
First Performance: John Carol Case and Howard Ferguson on February 20, 1959
"To a poet a thousand years hence" (1920s, revised 1941)
Range: G2-F#4 Approximate Duration: 4'30"
Finzi knew of this J. E. Flecker poem as early as 1919, and he even buried a copy of it in a time capsule while his home at Ashmansworth was being built. The text conveys the concept that an artist's "soul" may be transmitted over time through his work. The vocal range of this ambitious song covers nearly two octaves and meanders through several keys. McVeagh considers it one of Finzi's "most poignant, personal songs." (22)
"On parent knees" (1935)
Range: D3-E4 Approximate Duration: 1'50"
Set to a text attributed to W. Jones, "On parent knees" is a beautiful song only sixteen measures in length. The setting juxtaposes a newborn baby weeping while all around are smiling, with the death of the same person, now an old man, smiling while those around him are weeping. Throughout this slow-paced song, the singer needs to adeptly control his voice while portraying the irony of the text.
"Intrada" (after 1951)
Range: B[flat]2-F4 Approximate Duration: 1'15"
This short, recitative-like song, set to a poem by Thomas Traherne, compares an empty book to an infant's soul and suggests what wonders could fill both. The vocal line presents intervallic challenges. Finzi deftly sets the text, revealing nuances and stressing key words with lengthened rhythmic values.
"The birthright" (1956)
Range: D[flat]3-E4 Approximate Duration: 1'35"
In this tranquil lullaby recounting the birth of a child, Finzi utilizes a text by Walter de la Mare. The musical writing is especially effective at the end of the song, where Finzi employs a new key to announce the birth of the child. The vocal line requires some flexibility and freedom when singing the uppermost pitches and is best suited for a lighter voice.
"June on Castle Hill" (1940)
Range: A2-E[flat]4 Approximate Duration: 1'45"
Syncopated chordal accompaniment helps to darken the mood as this F. C. Lucas text foretells of "wars to come." The initial motive returns in the postlude, this time in the left hand. This song would be ideal for a more dramatic voice.
"Ode on the Rejection of St. Cecilia" (1948)
Range: A[flat]2-F4 Approximate Duration: 5'
"Ode" is the only song Finzi wrote in which the singer and pianist begin together. Particularly striking in the first two measures is the rapid crescendo and the melodic doubling in the accompaniment (Example 5). A dramatic arioso, it contains the most compelling accompaniment in To a Poet and is the longest and most difficult piece in the set. The singer and accompanist have equally interesting material that requires attention to detail and a keen ear for ensemble. Although the singer's compass does not require the outermost vocal ranges, he is required to sing with a lot of nuance and finesse.
Like I Said to Love, To a Poet was compiled and published after Finzi's death. Joy Finzi chose the title of each of the songs by selecting a phrase from each.
After decades of relative obscurity, the last several years have witnessed an increased awareness of the music of Gerald Finzi. A number of reasons may account for Finzi's unfamiliarity among singers and teachers of singing. First, many of the texts are poems by Thomas Hardy and often contain language not frequently in use today; Hardy's poems are darker in tone and may not be understood in a single encounter. Also, most of Finzi song sets are traditionally performed by male vocalists, having been originally composed for low voice. This inherently limits the type of singer who would perform the works. Despite these challenges, the young male singer should consider exploring this rich literature.
Diana McVeagh's invaluable book, Gerald Finzi: His Life and Music, offers biographic and musical insight gleaned through years of working closely with Finzi's family and colleagues. The Finzi Trust sponsors the website www.geraldfinzi.org, which provides information about current performances, articles, and scholarship opportunities. For years, Finzi's song sets have only been available separately. However, in 2008, Boosey and Hawkes (distributed through Hal Leonard) published Finzi's Collected Songs in High and Medium/Low Voice editions, which include certain sets in multiple keys. One hopes that recent research, publications, and the willingness of singers to broaden their programming of twentieth century English song will increase the awareness of Finzi's valuable contributions to the song repertoire.
Earth and Air and Rain: Songs by Gerald Finzi to words by Thomas Hardy Hyperion (CDA 66161/2). Martyn Hill, tenor; Stephen Varcoe, baritone; Clifford Benson, piano.
Finzi: Before and After Summer; I said to Love; Till Earth Outwears; Earth Air and Rain Lyrita (SRCD 282). John Carol Case, baritone; Robert Tear, tenor; Howard Ferguson, piano; Neil Jenkins, tenor.
Finzi: Earth and Air and Rain; By Footpath and Stile; To a Poet Naxos (8.557963). Roderick Williams, baritone; Iain Burnside, piano; Sacconi Quartet.
Finzi: I Said to Love; Let Us Garlands Bring; Before and After Summer Naxos (8.557944). Roderick Williams, baritone; Iain Burnside, piano.
The Gerald Finzi Collection Decca (4762163). Various artists including baritones Benjamin Luxon and Bryn Terfel.
(1.) Joyce Finzi to Donald Eugene Vogel, January 2, 1956; quoted in Vogel, "A Recital of Selected Songs for the Low Male Voice Composed by Gerald Finzi Using the Poetry of Thomas Hardy" (PhD dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1966), 8.
(3.) Diana McVeagh, "Gerald Finzi," in Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: MacMillan Publishers Ltd., 1980), 594.
(4.) John Russell, "Gerald Finzi" Musical Times 97 (December 1956):630.
(5.) Howard Ferguson, "Gerald Finzi," The Canon 11 (November 1957):111.
(6.) Gerald Finzi, "Absalom's Place: Catalogue of Works" 1941 (final paragraph 1951, typescript). The quotation is from the poem "On the Eve of Execution," stanza two, lines 5-6, by Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586).
(7.) Vogel, 107.
(8.) Stephen Banfield, Sensibility and English Song: Critical Studies of the Early Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 283-284.
(9.) Ibid., 281.
(10.) Howard Ferguson, record jacket notes for Gerald Finzi: Before and After Summer and I Said to Love, SRCS 38 (Lyrita, 1968).
(11.) Diana McVeagh, review of "Before and after summer; Till earth outwears; I said to love" (Lyrita recording SRCS 38), Musical Times (February 1969): 164.
(12.) Diana McVeagh, CD jacket notes for Earth and Air and Rain, CDA66161-2 (Hyperion, 1989).
(13.) Gerald Finzi to Howard Ferguson, December 1936, quoted in Howard Ferguson, "Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)," Music and Letters 38 (April 1957): 131.
(14.) Ferguson, "Gerald Finzi," Canon: 112.
(15.) Banfield, 290.
(16.) Jerry Michael McCoy, "The Choral Music of Gerald Finzi: A Study of Textual/Musical Relationships" (DMA dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 1982), 29.
(17.) Burton Parker, "Textual-Musical Relationships in Selected Song of Gerald Finzi," The NATS Bulletin 30, no. 5 (May/June 1974): 12.
(18.) All musical examples are from Gerald Finzi Collected Songs, Medium/Low Voice Edition (New York: Boosey & Hawkes/Hal Leonard, 2008), except By Footpath and Stile (New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1984).
(19.) Diana McVeagh, Gerald Finzi: His Life and Music (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2005), 170.
(20.) Andrew Burn, CD jacket notes for Finzi: Earth and Air and Rain; By Footpath and Stile; To a Poet, 8.557963 (Naxos, 2006).
(21.) Hardy's poem, entitled "The Sergeant's Song," was first published in Essex Poems and Other Verses (1898); currently, it is published in Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
(22.) McVeagh, Gerald Finzi: His Life and Music, 113.
David Schubert is Professor of Voice and Chair of the Department of Music at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. He holds degrees from Baldwin-Wallace College and Boston University and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma. As a soloist, he has performed in oratorios and has sung major roles in several operas, including Faust, Don Giovanni, The Mikado, Street Scenes, and Amahl and the Night Visitors. Schubert is an active recitalist, specializing in English art song and German lieder. He especially enjoys singing new music and has premiered works by David Caudill. Dr. Schubert was one of twelve vocalists nationwide selected for the fourth annual National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Internship Program, and continues to be an active member of NATS.
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|Publication:||Journal of Singing|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2012|
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