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  • Gerald Finzi

    Chansons volume 2


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Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
I said to Love, Op. 19b
Before and after Summer, Op. 16
Let us garlands bring, Op. 18

Iain Burnside, piano
Roderick Williams, baryton

erald Finzi (1901-1956)
I Said to Love, Op. 19b
Let Us Garlands Bring, Op. 18
Before and After Summer, Op. 16

Gerald Finzi studied with Ernest Farrar, Edward Bairstow and R.O. Morris. He came to attention with works like the orchestral miniature A Severn Rhapsody (1923) and a song-cycle to poems by Thomas Hardy, By Footpath and Stile (1921-2). Finzi?s reputation grew during the 1930s with performances of two groups of Hardy settings, A Young Man?s Exhortation (1926-9) and Earth and Air and Rain (1928-32), and was consolidated with the première in 1940 of his cantata Dies natalis (1925-39). During World War II Finzi worked at the Ministry of War Transport and founded a fine, mainly amateur, orchestra, the Newbury String Players. Two of his most popular works appeared during the war, the Five Bagatelles for clarinet (1920s, 1941-3) and the Shakespeare settings, Let Us Garlands Bring (1938-40).

In the post-war years his works include the festival anthem Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice (1946), the ceremonial ode For St Cecilia (1947) and a further Hardy song set Before and After Summer (1932-49), the Clarinet Concerto (1948-9) and Intimations of Immortality for chorus and orchestra (late 1936-8, 1949-50). Although the final years of his life were lived under the shadow of an incurable illness, he completed the Christmas scene In terra pax (1951-4) and his Cello Concerto (1951-5).

Song-writing is at the heart of Finzi?s output and he made a significant contribution to British twentiethcentury music in this genre, especially the settings of Thomas Hardy, his favourite poet, whom he set more than any other. His volume of Hardy?s Collected Poems was a treasured possession, as he wrote to a friend: ?If I had to be cut off from everything that would be the one book I should choose?. He felt an empathy with Hardy?s bleak fatalism, his sense of transience, and his anger at the suffering that mankind afflicts on mankind. About Hardy he wrote tellingly: ?I have always loved him so much and from earliest days responded, not so much to an influence, as to a kinship with him?.

Finzi composed slowly, so that songs that formed his sets, as he preferred to call them, were gathered over many years, gradually being brought into suitable groupings. Consequently at his death some two dozen songs were left complete. His friend Howard Ferguson, together with Finzi?s widow Joy, and eldest son Christopher, divided them into four song sets of which I Said to Love brought together the remaining Hardy settings for baritone. This group includes four songs that Finzi, in a flurry of creativity, composed or completed during 1956, the last year of his life, with others begun in the 1920s. Ferguson accompanied John Carol Case in the first performance of the songs on 27th January the following year.

Initially the setting of I Need Not Go has a nonchalant air, but in the final verse the music changes mood with the realisation that the poet?s beloved is, in reality, in her grave. The damp chill of a murky winter?s day is evoked by Finzi in At Middle-Field Gate in February, through an oscillating Holstian chordal sequence which underpins a dank vocal line. Later the music warms as it responds to Hardy?s recollection of youth and love in summers long past. Initially to light-footed music, Two Lips plays on the image of the kiss given in ardent imagination, in reality and then finally, as the mood of poem and music starkly changes, in death. Finzi referred to In Five- Score Summers (which Hardy titled 1967) as a ?meditation?. The poem is centred around Hardy?s utopian aspiration for a better world a century hence despite the follies of mankind. Hardy?s images in the opening verse are vividly portrayed by an animated, chromatically descending phrase. For Life I Had Never Cared Greatly is set to a purposeful, swaying gait mirroring the image of the journeying wanderer, as well as suggesting the dance of time. I Said to Love was Finzi?s last Hardy setting completed during the month before his death. On a broad scale, it is cast like a miniature scena with many memorable melodic responses to the words. It culminates in a dramatic piano cadenza unlike anything else in Finzi?s output, as the poet squares up to his adversary and forecasts that ?Mankind shall cease?, before the music ends with an emphatic violent ending and plunging cadence.

Finzi?s settings of Shakespeare, Let Us Garlands Bring, were first performed by Robert Irvin and Howard Ferguson on 12th October 1942. That performance coincided with Vaughan Williams?s seventieth birthday and Finzi dedicated the songs to him as his present. The dedicatee told him that Fear No More the Heat o? the Sun was one of the loveliest songs he had ever heard. After the concert Finzi and his wife took Vaughan Williams to lunch and as a second birthday present gave him the largest home-grown apple ever seen.

The songs range widely in mood beginning with the resigned funeral chime of Come Away, Come Away, Death, which is contrasted by a fresh evocation of newborn love in Who is Sylvia?. Vaughan Williams?s favourite, Fear No More the Heat o? the Sun, is indeed the finest of the set. As so often in Finzi?s Hardy settings, it is the images of transience (the dust to which the ?golden lads and girls? all must come), that drew from him an unforgettable response, as he translates the words into a haunting melody riven with melancholy. The lilting metre falters just once, in a superbly judged moment of drama at ?No Exorciser Harm Thee?, which Finzi sets as a quasi-recitative, before a ghostly echo of the main melody closes the song. The genial O Mistress Mine, described by Finzi as a ?pleasant, light, troubadourish setting? follows, and a carefree version of It Was a Lover and His Lass rounds off the work.

During 1948-9 Finzi composed a number of new Hardy settings, as well as revising older ones which were gathered under the title Before and After Summer and were first performed in a BBC broadcast on 17th October 1949 by Robert Irvin and Frederick Stone. The central poetic image of Childhood among the ferns is the child?s oneness with nature. Finzi emphasises this with his evocations of the pattering raindrops and streaming rivulets in the accompaniment of the first two verses and the magical change of key as the sunlight bursts forth after the shower. In the title song of the set, Finzi captures the poet?s sharply contrasting moods, initially buoyant and expectant, then redolent with autumnal melancholy emphasised by the slow, sad tread in the bass of the piano. Tolling chords as cold as the grave begin The Self-Unseeing, giving way to an invocation of Hardy?s happy childhood memories in the gentle dance that follows, whilst at the beginning of Overlooking the River, the soaring vocal line vividly portrays the curving flight of the swallows.

At the mid-point in the set comes Channel Firing, arguably Finzi?s most ambitious Hardy setting in the scale of moods the poem encompasses. It is symphonic in its relative proportions and is framed by the thunder of the guns out at sea. Within there is a fiery eruption as the Creator rails at mankind?s propensity for war, a melting consoling phrase at the words beginning For You Are Men, an ironic scherzando as the skeletons of the awakened dead muse on men?s folly, and finally a coda in which, by a deft melodic line of sheer beauty, Finzi conjures Hardy?s visionary images of past dynasties.

Memories of a dead lover haunt In the Mind?s Eye with its tiny obsessive refrain in between verses that mirrors the ever-present phantom in the poet?s mind, and in the opening bars of The Too Short Time, (Hardy?s title was The Best She Could), Finzi effortlessly evokes the fall of autumn leaves floating waywardly to earth. In Epeisodia Finzi composed a gem of a song where the verses are linked and underpinned by a graceful accompaniment which flows in response to the contours of the words. The insouciant mood of the first verse turns darker in the second as, to a minor key, urban images of drudgery are personified in the relentless tread of the music, only to emerge once more into the major and a vision of rest at the end of life?s journey. Amabel, set in a simple, strophic folksong-like manner, ironically reflects on the ravages of time. For the final song He Abjures Love, Finzi responded with a dramatic scena and music that mirrors the devil may care attitude of the poet. By the end though the sombre pedal line in the accompaniment leads to music that ends the song in a mood of bleak nihilism. The set as a whole has now come full circle, the ?before? of the child?s innocence in the first song now the ?after? with the rejection of love.

Andrew Burn


I said to love, op. 19b
(Words by Thomas Hardy)
1.

I need not go
I need not go
Through sleet and snow
To where I know
She waits for me;
She will tarry me there
Till I find it fair,
And have time to spare
From company.

When I"ve overgot
The world somewhat,
When things cost not
Such stress and strain,
Is soon enough
By cypress sough
To tell my Love
I am come again.

And if some day,
When none cries nay,
I still delay
To seek her side,
(Though ample measure
Of fitting leisure
Await my pleasure)
She will not chide.

What - not upbraid me
That I delayed me,
Nor ask what stayed me
So long? Ah, no! -
New cares may claim me,
New loves inflame me,
She will not blame me,
But suffer it so.

2.

At Middle-Field Gate in February
The bars are thick with drops that show
As they gather themselves from the fog
Like silver buttons ranged in a row,
And as evenly spaced as if measured, although
They fall at the feeblest jog.

They load the leafless hedge hard by,
And the blades of last year"s grass,
While the fallow ploughland turned up nigh
In raw rolls, clammy and clogging lie -
Too clogging for feet to pass.

How dry it was on a far-back day
When straws hung the hedge and around,
When amid the sheaves in amorous play
In curtained bonnets and light array
Bloomed a bevy now underground!

3.

Two Lips
I kissed them in fancy as I came
Away in the morning glow:
I kissed them through the glass of her picture-frame:
She did not know.

I kissed them in love, in troth, in laughter,
When she knew all; long so!
That I should kiss them in a shroud thereafter
She did not know.

4.

In five-score summers (Meditation)
In five-score summers!  All new eyes,
New minds, new modes, new fools, new wise;
New woes to weep, new joys to prize;

With nothing left of me and you
In that live century"s vivid view
Beyond a pinch of dust or two;

A century which, if not sublime,
Will show, I doubt not, at its prime,
A scope above this blinkered time.

-  Yet what to me how far above?
For I would only ask thereof
That thy worm should be my worm, Love!

5.

For Life I had never cared greatly
For Life I had never cared greatly,
As worth a man"s while;
Peradventures unsought,
Peradventures that finished in nought,
Had kept me from youth and through manhood till lately
Unwon by its style.

In earliest years - why I know not -
I viewed it askance;
Conditions of doubt,
Conditions that leaked slowly out,
May haply have bent me to stand and to show not
Much zest for its dance.

With symphonies soft and sweet colour
It courted me then,
Till evasions seemed wrong,
Till evasions gave in to its song,
And I warmed, until living aloofly loomed duller
Than life among men.

Anew I found nought to set eyes on,
When, lifting its hand,
It uncloaked a star,
Uncloaked it from fog-damps afar,
And showed its beams burning from pole to horizon
As bright as a brand.

And so, the rough highway forgetting,
I pace hill and dale
Regarding the sky,
Regarding the vision on high,
And thus re-illumed have no humour for letting
My pilgrimage fail.

6.

I said to Love
I said to Love,
"It is not now as in old days
When men adored thee and thy ways
All else above;
Named thee the Boy, the Bright, the One
Who spread a heaven beneath the sun,"
I said to Love.

I said to him,
"We now know more of thee than then;
We were but weak in judgment when,
With hearts abrim,
We clamoured thee that thou would"st please
Inflict on us thine agonies,"
I said to him.

I said to Love,
"Thou art not young, thou art not fair,
No elfin darts, no cherub air,
Nor swan, nor dove
Are thine; but features pitiless,
And iron daggers of distress,"
I said to Love.

"Depart then, Love! ?
-  Man"s race shall perish, threatenest thou,
Without thy kindling coupling-vow?
The age to come the man of now
Know nothing of? -
We fear not such a threat from thee;
We are too old in apathy!
Mankind shall cease. -  So let it be,"
I said to Love.


Let Us Garlands Bring, op. 18

(Words by Shakespeare)
7.

Come away, come away, death
Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

8.

Who is Silvia?
Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she;
The heaven such grace did lend her,
That she might admiréd be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness;
And, being helped, inhabits there.

Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us garlands bring.

9.

Fear no more the heat o" the sun
Fear no more the heat o" the sun,
Nor the furious winter"s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta"en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o" the great;
Thou art past the tyrant"s stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownéd be thy grave!

10.

O mistress mine
O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear; your true love"s coming
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers" meeting,
Ev"ry wise man"s son doth know.

What is love? "tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What"s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth"s a stuff will not endure.

11.

It was a lover and his lass
It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino
That o"er the green cornfield did pass.
In spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie,
In spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And therefore take the present time
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crownéd with the prime
In spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.


Before and After Summer, op. 16

(Words by Thomas Hardy)
12.

Childhood among the ferns
I sat one sprinkling day upon the lea,
Where tall-stemmed ferns spread out luxuriantly,
And nothing but those tall ferns sheltered me.

The rain gained strength, and damped each lopping frond,
Ran down their stalks beside me and beyond,
And shaped slow-creeping rivulets as I conned,

With pride, my spray-roofed house. And though anon
Some drops pierced its green rafters, I sat on,
Making pretence I was not rained upon.

The sun then burst, and brought forth a sweet breath
From the limp ferns as they dried underneath:
I said: "I could live on here thus till death";

And queried in the green rays as I sate:
"Why should I have to grow to man"s estate,
And this afar-noised World perambulate?"

13.

Before and after summer
Looking forward to the spring
One puts up with anything.
On this February day
Though the winds leap down the street
Wintry scourgings seem but play,
And these later shafts of sleet
- Sharper pointed than the first -
And these later snows - the worst -
Are as a half-transparent blind
Riddled by rays from sun behind.

Shadows of the October pine
Reach into this room of mine:
On the pine there stands a bird;
He is shadowed with the tree.
Mutely perched he bills no word;
Blank as I am even is he.
For those happy suns are past,
Fore-discerned in winter last.
When went by their pleasure, then?
I, alas, perceived not when.

14.

The self-unseeing
Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.

She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!

15.

Overlooking the river
The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
Above the river-gleam
In the wet June"s last beam:
Like little crossbows animate
The swallows flew in the curve of an eight
Above the river-gleam.

Planing up shavings of crystal spray
A moor-hen darted out
From the bank thereabout,
And through the stream-shine ripped his way;
Planing up shavings of crystal spray
A moor-hen darted out.

Closed were the kingcups; and the mead
Dripped in monotonous green,
Though the day"s morning sheen
Had shown it golden and honeybee"d;
Closed were the kingcups; and the mead
Dripped in monotonous green.

And never I turned my head, alack,
While these things met my gaze
Through the pane"s drop-drenched glaze,
To see the more behind my back....
O never I turned, but let, alack,
These less things hold my gaze!

16.

Channel firing
That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares;
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, "No;
It"s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

"All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

"That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them"s a blessed thing;
For if it were they"d have to scour
Hell"s floor for so much threatening. ...

"Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need)."

So down we lay again. "I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,"
Said one, "than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!"

And many a skeleton shook his head.
"Instead of preaching forty year,"
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
"I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer."

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

17.

In the mind"s eye
That was once her casement,
And the taper nigh,
Shining from within there,
Beckoned, "Here am I!"

Now, as then, I see her
Moving at the pane;
Ah; "tis but her phantom
Borne within my brain!

Foremost in my vision
Everywhere goes she;
Change dissolves the landscapes,
She abides with me.

Shape so sweet and shy, Dear,
Who can say thee nay?
Never once do I, Dear,
Wish thy ghost away.

18.

The too short time
Nine leaves a minute
Swim down shakily;
Each one fain would spin it
Straight to earth; but, see,
How the sharp airs win it
Slantwise away! Hear it say,
"Now we have finished our summer show
Of what we knew the way to do:
Alas, not much! But, as things go,
As fair as any. And night-time calls,
And the curtain falls!"

Sunlight goes on shining
As if no frost were here,
Blackbirds seem designing
Where to build next year;
Yet is warmth declining:
And still the day seems to say,
"Saw you how Dame Summer drest?
Of all God taught her she bethought her!
Alas, not much! And yet the best
She could, within the too short time
Granted her prime."

19.

Epeisodia
Past the hills that peep
Where the leaze is smiling,
On and on beguiling
Crisply-cropping sheep;
Under boughs of brushwood
Linking tree and tree
In a shade of lushwood,
There caressed we!

Hemmed by city walls
That outshut the sunlight,
In a foggy dun light,
Where the footstep falls
With a pit-pat wearisome
In its cadency
On the flagstones drearisome
There pressed we!

Where in wild-winged crowds
Blown birds show their whiteness
Up against the lightness
Of the clammy clouds;
By the random river
Pushing to the sea,
Under bents that quiver
There shall rest we.

20.

Amabel
I marked her ruined hues,
Her custom-straitened views,
And asked, "Can there indwell
My Amabel?"

I looked upon her gown,
Once rose, now earthen brown;
The change was like the knell
Of Amabel.

Her step"s mechanic ways
Had lost the life of May"s;
Her laugh, once sweet in swell,
Spoilt Amabel.
I mused: "Who sings the strain
I sang ere warmth did wane?
Who thinks its numbers spell
His Amabel?" -

Knowing that, though Love cease,
Love"s race shows no decrease;
All find in dorp or dell
An Amabel.

- I felt that I could creep
To some housetop, and weep,
That Time the tyrant fell
Ruled Amabel!

I said (the while I sighed
That love like ours had died),
"Fond things I"ll no more tell
To Amabel,

"But leave her to her fate,
And fling across the gate,
"Till the Last Trump, farewell,
O Amabel!""

21.

He abjures Love
At last I put off love,
For twice ten years
The daysman of my thought,
And hope, and doing;
Being ashamed thereof,
And faint of fears
And desolations, wrought
In his pursuing.

Since first in youthtime those
Disquietings
That heart-enslavement brings
To hale and hoary,
Became my housefellows,
And, fool and blind,
I turned from kith and kind
To give him glory.

I was as children be
Who have no care;
I did not shrink or sigh,
I did not sicken;
But lo, Love beckoned me,
And I was bare,
And poor, and starved, and dry,
And fever-stricken.

Too many times ablaze
With fatuous fires,
Enkindled by his wiles
To new embraces,
Did I, by wilful ways
And baseless ires,
Return the anxious smiles
Of friendly faces.

No more will now rate I
The common rare,
The midnight drizzle dew,
The gray hour golden,
The wind a yearning cry,
The faulty fair,
Things dreamt, of comelier hue
Than things beholden!...

- I speak as one who plumbs
Life"s dim profound,
One who at length can sound
Clear views and certain.
But - after love what comes?
A scene that lours,
A few sad vacant hours,
And then, the Curtain.

 
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