Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)

English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) was the youngest son of a wealthy Jewish shipbroker of Italian descent. His German Jewish mother composed music and played the piano. Finzi himself was an agnostic. A succession of early traumas – his father’s death when Finzi was only eight, the death of his teacher in World War I, and the early death of three older brothers – all of these events caused Finzi to look inward and turn to reading poetry for solace. He especially loved the poetry of Traherne, Hardy, Rossetti, Woodsworth and Bridges – poets who examined the transience of life and/or the way the adult world disrupts the innocence of childhood. After a brief spell in the Gloucestershire countryside, he returned to London where he joined a circle of composers that included Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, Peter Warlock and Ralph Vaughan Williams. For a brief period he taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1937 he and his wife built a house in the Hampshire Hills where he worked and composed (and grew apples) until his death in 1956.

"God is Gone Up," composed for the feast day of St. Cecilia, is a perfect text for Ascension. It is taken from the last three verses of a meditation on Philippians 2:9 by Edward Taylor (1644-1729), a Puritan metaphysical poet from England who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1668. Finzi blends his text-oriented approach with the more rhythmic and muscular style that he adopted after a 1950 trip to the United States.  The organ fanfares at the beginning mirror the text of joy and praise. The middle section shimmers in contemplation, awaiting the confirming return of the triumphant beginning text.

©Ryan Turner

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