At the November meeting of the Shipston Music Society we welcomed back Tim Porter for another fascinating talk linking poetry and music. This time he chose to explore the lives and work of Thomas Hardy and Gerald Finzi. He began by comparing their backgrounds – Hardy, (1840-1928) from a working class background and Finzi (1901-1956) of Italian/Jewish parentage whose family were wealthy. They were both shy and quiet as children, especially Finzi whose father had died when he was eight. On reaching adulthood both men had acquired a real love of the countryside and both wanted a partner to share this pleasure. However, as they both lacked confidence this was a daunting prospect and it took some years before they each met a young lady and eventually both were married.
Hardy’s poetry, sometimes archaic with perhaps an odd word order, obscure words or even words which he had invented, did not deter Finzi. He liked Hardy’s style and would compose a free-flowing vocal melody to accommodate the unusual rhythm of the poem. We heard an example taken from the song-cycle “Earth and Air and Rain” which was beautifully sung on the recording by Roderick Williams.
Hardy continued writing well into his eighties with over 1000 poems in total. Finzi, on the other hand, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 51. He then composed furiously until his early death at the age of 56. Apart from songs his output includes choral works such as “Dies Natalis” and instrumental works e.g. the clarinet concerto and the deeply moving cello concerto written in 1955; the first performance was broadcast the night before he died.
As expected, this talk gave us a real insight into the lives and work of these two very talented men and especially the way in which Finzi could capture the essence of a Hardy poem and bring it alive in his songs.