Gerald Finzi

Gerald Finzi

At our Ascension Day Service on Thursday evening, in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, we sang all the good old favourites, such as ‘Hail the Day…’ words by Charles Wesley, ‘The Head that once…..’ with Jeremiah Clarke’s tune St Magnus, and Saward’s ‘Christ Triumphant….’ to John Barnard’s  great tune  ‘Guiting Power’.  ALL GOOD STUFF !!

The music of the Liturgy was Haydn’s Kleine Orgelmesse…..very much a ‘no-nonsense’ setting which does exactly what it says on the tin.

For the anthem, the Cathedral Choir sang  ‘God is Gone Up’…..a title which is highly-suitable for such  an occasion. It was written by Gerald Finzi, the son of a father of Italian/ Jewish descent and mother of German/Jewish parentage.

He was born in London in 1901, into a well-off household and was able to be educated privately. He lost his father at 7 and during the First World War the family moved to Harrogate. In his early years he also lost three of his brothers…..which no doubt had an influence on his writing. He took the chance to study with Edward Bairstow who was close-by, at York Minster.

At the age of 21 he moved to Gloucestershire where he could compose in the lovely rural countryside. However, five years later he returned to London where he became acquainted with Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Sir Arthur Bliss. He married artist Joy Black in 1933 and moved to Wiltshire.

At the outbreak of war he moved to a farm in Hampshire, where he opened the house to German and Czech refugees, and he formed the amateur group the Newbury String Players. This allowed him to work on eighteenth century pieces, and several premieres by his contempories were given.

He was diagnosed in 1951 as having Hodgkin’s Disease but he continued with his work. In 1954 there was an all-Finzi concert in the Royal Festival Hall, and Sir John Barbirolli commissioned his Cello Concerto for the Cheltenham Festival of 1955. He died in 1956.

Whilst he is not a common name in the average listener’s vocabulary, and I don’t find ‘God is Gone up’ an easy piece to listen-to, I have to admit that perhaps his music does require a little more investigation.