Although Finzi was neither a singer nor a pianist of much accomplishment, he remains best known for the songs and choral music that form the bulk of his work. He amassed a distinguished library and his love for English literature lead naturally to text settings. The son of a wealthy shipbroker who died when he was eight, Finzi studied music privately. He had the help of prominent musicians such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and founded a sort of community orchestra, with which he supported younger performers and composers and revived largely forgotten 18th-century English music.
Thomas Hardy was particularly important to Finzi, but he did set Shakespeare regularly. Let Us Garlands Bring gathers five songs that he composed between 1929 and 1942, when he dedicated the set to Vaughan Williams on the older composer’s 70th birthday. (Finzi also wrote incidental music for a radio broadcast of Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1946.) Finzi organized his five songs into a coherent group, contrasting deeply reflective elegies with bright love songs. Vaughan Williams thought the central “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,” with its solemnly cresting vocal line, steady piano tread, and hushed benediction, one of the loveliest songs ever written. There are deliberately antique touches that reference the Elizabethan period of the texts, but the harmonic bumps and the natural declamation are Finzi’s own.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.