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Before and after Summer Op.16 (Excerpts)

Gerald Finzi (1901 - 1956)

Before and after Summer Op.16 (Excerpts)

Before and After Summer, put together for publication some 13 years later and dedicated to Edmund Blunden, pushes similar notions farther but in some cases with a new sense of emotional detachment, probably a technical matter of new musical influences on the composer reflecting a current concern with writing for the piano. Thus the first song is very much a piano toccata, the second a study in 6ths, though in each case the essay collapses as does the poet’s anticipation (hence the work’s title). ‘The self-unseeing’ is this cycle’s ghostly fancy, a serenading dance framed by modernist ostinato, ‘Overlooking the river’ another posthumous love-letter to Emma, couched musically as a pastoral idyll. ‘Channel firing’, Finzi’s longest song, is a whole symphony in miniature, bone-rattling scherzo and all. ‘In the mind’s eye’ balances ‘The self-unseeing’: another easy-going dance, prolonging the idea of a suite, but accepting rather than regretting the processes of memory (both songs end with the word ‘away’). Only Hardy could have sat timing the leaves falling off a tree in autumn (nine a minute), and only Finzi in ‘The too short time’ could have replicated the process in music—we hear six in about 48 seconds before aria takes over from recitative in this neobaroque fancy that parallels ‘Waiting both’ from the earlier cycle. ‘Epeisodia’ is a bagatelle, once again like a piano étude set aslant the poem (though with a march-trio central stanza), while ‘Amabel’ complements Lizbie Browne in key and refrain (her name heard 8 times) if not in spirit in this piteous, indeed almost pitiless, elegy. Nature as renewing is certainly not the message of Before and After Summer, for Amabel, unlike the bodies beneath the yew in Earth and Air and Rain, needs the Last Trump for her corporeal redemption, and since neither Hardy nor Finzi believes in it, ‘He abjures Love’, a melodramatic sermon on nihilism, provides the appropriate and curiously satisfying conclusion to this cycle of song cycles, its mixture of aria and sonata form tying up Finzi’s musical conceits as does its petulant vision Hardy’s poetic ones. And as with Bach, Finzi’s cyclic journey takes him finally to B minor in this wonderful song.

© Stephen Banfield

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