Gerald Finzi is a composer most well known for his songs, which have a very English feel despite his Italian Jewish origin. Born in 1901, Finzi studied composition with Farrar in Harrogate and Bairstow in York. Before he was 18, he had seen the deaths of his father, three brothers and a teacher, initiating an early awareness of the fragility of life, a theme often present in his music. Moving to London in 1926 he befriended young composers Ferguson and Rubbra, and met Vaughan Williams, Holst and Bliss . In 1930 he became a tutor at the Royal College of Music, but had to leave to work for the Ministry of War Transport during WWII. Finzi died from the Hodgkinson's disease that had been diagnosed five years earlier in 1956.
Finzi's early successes include the Thomas Hardy cycles A Young Man's Exhortation (1933) and Earth and Air and Rain (1936), which showed him to be a master at setting poetry to music. After WWII he turned to larger works, including For St Cecilia (1947), Intimations of Immortality (1950) and the Clarinet Concerto (1949) - a twentieth century classic for Finzi's favourite instrument.
The influence of Parry , Elgar and Vaughan Williams can be heard in Finzi's lyrical and understated music. About two thirds of his works are vocal (his oeuvre includes more than 100 songs for soloist or choir), and display a great sensitivity to words - unsurprising in the man who left Reading University a 3000-book collection of poetry, philosophy and literature.