As I recently took my copy of Earth and Air and Rain off the shelf to revise it for a recital, I was struck by a number of things. Firstly, what a cracking section of my library the Finzi song category is! What a magical thing music is — that, for all we notate it in a fixed way, it continues to live and breathe, and only really exists in a moment. And fourthly, as I started playing through it again, what a glorious piece of music this is, how beautifully it lies under the hands, how distinctively like Finzi it feels to play, and how evocative the harmonic language is. The meeting of minds between Hardy and Finzi is something special albeit probably without meeting in physical terms.
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As I recently took my copy of Earth and Air and Rain off the shelf to revise it for a recital, I was struck by a number of things. Firstly, what a cracking section of my library the Finzi song category is! What a magical thing music is — that, for all we notate it in a fixed way, it continues to live and breathe, and only really exists in a moment. And fourthly, as I started playing through it again, what a glorious piece of music this is, how beautifully it lies under the hands, how distinctively like Finzi it feels to play, and how evocative the harmonic language is.
The meeting of minds between Hardy and Finzi is something special albeit probably without meeting in physical terms. You will understand. Song is unique in its confluence of poem and music, and to me it is clear that the very best songs have both excellent poetry and excellent music, each of which illumines the other.
As a song pianist, one of the fascinations for me is how we embrace, explore and express the text. For the singer, these are questions too, but perhaps the answers are more obvious; after all, they actually sing the words. In my opinion, the song pianist should spend every bit as long with the text — reading it, considering it, analysing it, interpreting it, internalising it. For the pianist, there are a different set of decisions to make.
Are we, in effect, the same character, experiencing the same love or loss or searching, as one? Or are we the scenery?
The context? The description? The pianist is, of course, all of these things and more. Summer arrives, and calls the birds, who flood the land with their singing; the waters spring from little chinks and cascade down the hill, enhancing all the green growth of the land.
The piano writing is full of bubbling and cascading, all quavers and flurries. Immediately, Finzi sets up his irregular use of time signatures: after only two bars in triple time he shifts to quadruple, and then quickly back, thereafter constantly switching through the song. This changing time pattern also lends the music a fluidity: it never sits down, but stays afloat, moving at ease like the rivers and birds of the poem.
For English musicians in particular, there is a danger of wallowing in every little moment of beauty. Our continental colleagues, without the same English nostalgic associations, often bring a rigour to their performances of this music: a viola professor when I was studying at the Academy once pointed out that the most spectacularly scenic walk is ruined if you stop and hug every single tree along the way.
The music more than halves in speed, creating a pause for contemplation over our powerlessness to control fate. Here the piano and voice parts are more closely locked together; our thought is as one. Lyonnesse is a country in Arthurian legend notably in the story of Tristan and Iseult , said to border Cornwall. As a young apprentice architect, Hardy visited the St Juliot rectory and church in Cornwall for the first time, to supervise the restoration of a church, and here met his future wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford.
On his return from the parish, people noticed a glow in his eyes and, allegedly, a crumpled piece of paper sticking out of his coat pocket, containing the draft of this poem. Just as in the first song, here the melodic rise and fall is wide: an octave and a half span in less than three bars for the singer, with most phrases following a similar sweep. This lends the music a distinctive openness and optimism.
It is hard, however, to carry off well: most singers will find either the top of the phrases a struggle or the bottom of the phrases hard to project well, and the diligent accompanist must always have ears alert to balance the same piano textures differently according to the range of the voice. Rhythmically, there is a wonderful timelessness to this song, the piano gestures mostly placed across the barline, so we feel no clear beat.
Queer are the ways of a man I know: He comes and stands In a careworn craze, And looks at the sands And the seaward haze With moveless hands And face and gaze, Then turns to go… And what does he see when he gazes so?
They say he sees as an instant thing More clear than to-day, A sweet soft scene That once was in play By that briny green; Yes, notes alway Warm, real, and keen, What his back years bring— A phantom of his own figuring. Of this vision of his they might say more: Not only there Does he see this sight, But everywhere In his brain—day, night, As if on the air It were drawn rose bright— Yea, far from that shore Does he carry this vision of heretofore:.
The music pauses as we discover who the vision is, and then withers chromatically, before the music it conjours up hope of some kind of resurrection, we hear:. A ghost-girl-rider. And though, toil-tried, He withers daily, Time touches her not, But she still rides gaily In his rapt thought On that shagged and shaly Atlantic spot, And as when first eyed Draws rein and sings to the swing of the tide.
Furthermore, every verse enters at a different point in the piano interlude: a trap waiting to be fallen into! Finzi is reputed to have named it as one of the worst of the set, but I cannot agree! Like so many Finzi melodies, this sweeps upwards, and then falters and falls. Always the first half is what might have been, and the second how it failed to materialise.
Such suppleness cannot, of course, be determined by directions on paper, and the modifications of speed which are given should only be considered as an outline.
It was as if She had never been. The poem in fact is one of the most strange and most philosophical, and the music matches it. Every bit of imagery in the poem is matched with a musical texture and a harmonic colour. It is immaculately painted, and enormously satisfying to play. It feels in this way that it fits in a tradition derived from Schumann and most obviously Dichterliebe, with its great summing-up piano postlude , of final songs being somehow handed over to the piano. A lengthy introduction, full of suspensions, added seconds, false relations, and with driving Finzi rhythms under the spun melodic lines, presents challenges to the pianist.
The thrushes sing as the sun is going, And the finches whistle in ones and pairs, And as it gets dark loud nightingales in bushes Pipe, as they can when April wears, As if all Time were theirs. The rhythm stills, and the driving ceases. The point of the poem is in the second stanzaand, really, the point of the cycle too. For both Hardy and Finzi, themes of the passing of time, the transience of life, and our role in a bigger universe, return time and again.
Earth and Air and Rain was published in , having taken several years before that to write, but was not premiered until Given the events of the intervening years, these themes must have been horribly poignant but also profoundly understood.
So, framed musically with what is almost a chorale of peace and reconciliation, Finzi leaves us with the thought:. I always feel a real satisfaction if singer and pianist manage to generate a lengthy silence at the end of this song; we and the audience are lost in thought. How cyclical life is, and how beautifully Finzi captures that in this piece. Members Area 0 Items. The music pauses as we discover who the vision is, and then withers chromatically, before the music it conjours up hope of some kind of resurrection, we hear: A ghost-girl-rider.
Finzi’s Earth and Air and Rain: a performer’s view
Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first. Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages. Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults. The earliest songs date from the s; the latest from a few months before his death in Finzi and Hardy could have met.
Finzi Earth and Air and Rain