Time's inexorability: a performance study of Gerald Finzi's Earth and air and rain

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Gerald Finzi has at least once been characterized as the English Hugo Wolf. To one familiar with the music of both Wolf and Finzi, such a statement understandably elicits pause and must be qualified by the context in which the characterization was made. Wolf's musical compositions are considerably more complex and broader in scope than those of Gerald Finzi. Finzi's compositional style is one unmistakably British, and shares little in common with the music of Wolf. There is, however, a shared characteristic in their compositional styles. Each of the men was highly detailed in their sensitivity to poetry and used music as a medium to accentuate their respective languages' aesthetic qualities. For Gerald Finzi, the poetry of Thomas Hardy seems to have held a strong attraction as fodder for song composition. This is evidenced in the overwhelming number of his songs with Hardy texts as their subjects. Finzi's Hardy songs constitute a significant period of English song composition in the first half of the 20th century. His careful attention to textual declamation and Hardy's shifting tone of voice result in songs that not only exemplify a style distinctively British, but also a style that bears out the deeper philosophical foundations of Hardy's poetry. His careful grouping of the ten poems of Earth and Air and Rain illustrates not only his gift for setting his native language, but also an intimate understanding of the ideology contained within Hardy's poetry. A successful performance of Earth and Air and Rain is greatly dependent upon the performer's ability to portray the ideology of Hardy as seen through Finzi's musical interpretation of his poetry. Learning to recognize the compositional devices characteristic of Finzi's idiomatic style enables the performer to accomplish this task. To that end, the following performance study seeks to compartmentalize those devices in such a way that not only facilitates a successful performance of these songs, but that also gives insight to the performance of the other Finzi settings of Hardy poetry.

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