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Gerald Finzi [Paperback]

Stephen Banfield
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Aug. 31 1998
This is a biography of a composer whose music is rooted in the tradition of Elgar, Parry, Vaughan Williams and those composers in the opening decades of the 20th century for whom song writing was a principal means of expression. Finzi is now seen as he may have seen himself - as an artist whose limitations were innate and whose pastoral or provincial lifestyle and aspirations would reflect those limitations whilst somehow invalidating them.

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From Library Journal

In Britain, the works of Finzi (1901-56) are generally admired and oft-recorded, but his Anglophilic musical landscapes have not resonated as strongly with American audiences. Despite his native popularity, it has taken over 40 years for a full-length biography of the composer to be published. (John C. Dressler's Gerald Finzi, part of Greenwood's "Biobibliographies in Music" series, serves to introduce the composer's work. ) The Finzi Trust commissioned this work, but it retains a welcome tone of objectivity. Banfield (music, Univ. of Birmingham, UK) uses a staggering number of letters to and from Finzi, which shed light on a personality and artistic temperament more complex than often thought. Finzi's compositions reflect a strain of English Romanticism born of his love for the Hampshire countryside, yet his lifelong attempt to reconcile his "Englishness" with his Italian Jewish heritage led to an undercurrent of mystery and pathos in much of his work. Banfield's text proceeds chronologically, with numerous musical examples embedded throughout. Readers should come away with a greater appreciation of Finzi's large and varied output but may find the wealth of detail tedious. Recommended for larger undergraduate and graduate collections.DLarry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A major contribution to the history of music in Britain in the first half of the 20th century." -- Michael Kennedy, BBC Music Magazine

"[A] long-needed and doubly welcome book." -- John Steane, The Musical Times

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Who was Gerald Finzi? It is a more important question than it might initially seem for Stephen Banfield in his recent biography of the English composer. The author asks it as part of an attempt to evaluate Finzi's cultural identity as well as artistic attainment in a life that was too short but filled with significant music.
For the classical music lover of more than average discernment, discovery of Finzi's work casts him in the role of visionary. The world can seem forever changed after a first listening to Finzi's vocal works (above all the superb Dies Natalis). He is that remarkable rarity, a relatively unknown composer who provides something like a gift of divine revelation.
For the official histories, on the other hand, he is usually little more than a second- or third-rate member of the English pastoral tradition (less kindly known as the "cow-pat school") that asserted itself between the two world wars, the big names in which were Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Delius. Seen from this more detached viewpoint, Finzi was a close friend of Vaughan Williams as well as a familiar of Bliss, but a composer of nowhere near their abilities -- most characteristically, a man who did small things well, as in his settings of poems by Hardy, Wordsworth, and Traherne.
In this first major biography of Finzi, Banfield (who has a long record of devotion to researching the composer's career for musicology publications) does an excellent job of attempting to place Finzi into perspective between the two views of him from the small and the large ends of the telescope.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The First Finzi Biography -- Overdue and Well-Done Feb. 1 2001
By Paul Kistel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Who was Gerald Finzi? It is a more important question than it might initially seem for Stephen Banfield in his recent biography of the English composer. The author asks it as part of an attempt to evaluate Finzi's cultural identity as well as artistic attainment in a life that was too short but filled with significant music.
For the classical music lover of more than average discernment, discovery of Finzi's work casts him in the role of visionary. The world can seem forever changed after a first listening to Finzi's vocal works (above all the superb Dies Natalis). He is that remarkable rarity, a relatively unknown composer who provides something like a gift of divine revelation.
For the official histories, on the other hand, he is usually little more than a second- or third-rate member of the English pastoral tradition (less kindly known as the "cow-pat school") that asserted itself between the two world wars, the big names in which were Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Delius. Seen from this more detached viewpoint, Finzi was a close friend of Vaughan Williams as well as a familiar of Bliss, but a composer of nowhere near their abilities -- most characteristically, a man who did small things well, as in his settings of poems by Hardy, Wordsworth, and Traherne.
In this first major biography of Finzi, Banfield (who has a long record of devotion to researching the composer's career for musicology publications) does an excellent job of attempting to place Finzi into perspective between the two views of him from the small and the large ends of the telescope.
Banfield also attempts, more notably, to come to terms with Finzi's peculiar position as a member of an impressive family with ancient Italian Jewish roots (yes, probably related in some way to the Finzi-Continis of movie fame) who made the personal choice to mix with nationalistic English musicians, even arguing in print for the virtues of embracing a strong English cultural identity.
Those who find themselves intrigued by current debates about the role played by ethnic culture in determining personal identity will also be interested by Banfield's treatment of Finzi's dilemma.
But it is to those of us who see Finzi through the magnifying lens, and who have come to feel personally touched by his music, that Banfield has most to say.
How did Finzi live his life? (Quite well, as a person who seemed almost saintly in his abilities to rise above the usual pettiness and indecorous weaknesses of most notables in the arts.) Who did he rub shoulders with? (Many, many fascinating figures in the early twentieth century revival of English music, though not all are well known.)Why should he be remembered at all, beyond the Hardy songs and Dies Natalis? (Among the many activities that this compulsive conservator undertook, he almost single-handedly revived forgotten English composers from the era of Handel.)
And finally -- for fans of the film "Hilary and Jackie" -- was he any relation to the dashing Kiffer Finzi who swept Hilary off her feet? (Indeed, Gerald Finzi was Kiffer's father, though you'd never know it from the film's silence about the father's big cello concerto.)
Personal note: as one of those collectors of English music who have never forgotten the moment of revelation as Dies Natalis (conducted, incidentally, by Kiffer Finzi) made the transition to the turntable after discovery in an obscure record bin, I find it an indispensible service from Banfield to have all the personal lore about the composer between two covers, and nicely written for the most part.
One small warning, though: this is one of those extremely conscientious studies of national musical figures that Faber and Faber do so well. That means that much of its 500-plus-pages bulk is taken up with detailed musicological analysis, for the most part closely woven in with the biographical narrative and tending to overshadow it. If you've allowed yourself to become rusty on your key relationships, or if you don't happen to have the complete run of Finzi recordings (or even more helpfully, the scores) at hand, the book will be slow going, even for dedicated page-skippers.
But the book should provide many new insights for the general reader with a curiosity about both musical matters and general English artistic life in the first half of the recent century (Finzi's dates were 1901-1956). And who, having discovered and then fallen in love with Finzi's rapturous vocal revelations, would not wish to have this thorough a portrait of him, crotchets and quavers and all?
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