Welcome Sweet and Sacred Feast: Choral Settings of Metaphysical Poetry by Gerald Finzi
AuthorJones, W. Elliot
Committee ChairChamberlain, Bruce
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractGerald Finzi (1901-1956) amassed a library that numbered over three thousand volumes, mostly of poetry, by the time of his death and was extremely selective when choosing poems to set to music. Settings of Thomas Hardy form the bulk of his output for solo voice, but for his choral works he returned again and again to seventeenth -century metaphysical poets like George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne and Edward Taylor. These poets relied more upon rational thought than on intuition or theology in their work, and even their religious passion was filtered through reason. The extent of their use of wit, paradox, puns and their unusual juxtaposition of images, such as Andrew Marvell's comparison of the soul to a drop of dew, had not been seen before in English sacred poetry. Finzi, an agnostic, was attracted to their questioning of traditional, accepted religious thinking, and he frequently quoted these poets in his letters. The loss of loved ones at an early age, his affinity for the pessimism of his poetic idol Thomas Hardy, his rejection of religious dogma, and his constant awareness of the frailty of human existence would all influence his choice of texts for vocal and choral works. When commissioned to write sacred choral works, Finzi turned to Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan and Edward Taylor for poetic, not dogmatic, religious poetry.Gerald Finzi's first five works for chorus were settings of the poetry of George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne, and he continued to set metaphysical poetry throughout his career. It would ultimately account for over twenty-five percent of his total output of music for chorus. Finzi consistently responded to the elaborate conceits and surprising juxtapositions that characterize metaphysical poetry with musical surprises using harmony, tonality, meter, rhythm, texture, voicing and melodic shape. Always allegiant to the principles and values of the pastoral composers who preceded him, Finzi created music that is characterized by an ever-present sense of elegiac melancholy often expressed in Romantic melodic gestures accompanied by consonant harmony. He earns this seeming indulgence, however, through frequent use of dissonance, usually placed in low sonorities, Bachian contrapuntal textures, and even modernist elements. In terms of scholarship and philosophy, Gerald Finzi and the metaphysical poets were kindred spirits. An exploration of this subject that details precisely how Finzi responded to these poems in his musical settings of them will lead conductors, musicians and listeners to a more thorough understanding of these pieces and the artist who created them.