Intimations of Immortality-Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)

for Tenor, Chorus and Orchestra

Gerald Finzi’s choice of William Wordsworth’s ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood was a consequence of Finzi’s experiences during his formative years.  His childhood was mostly unhappy, for he felt alienated from others due to his artistic instincts and the lack of understanding and support from his family.  He retreated to extensive reading of English literature and poetry.  In addition, by the time Gerald was seventeen, all his brothers and his father had died, as well as his mentor and composition teacher Ernest Farrar.  The result was a man with a tremendous literary repertoire, an acute awareness of the frailty of human existence, and a conviction that the realities of life often dim the intuitive freshness of childhood.

 Intimations of Immortality is an exhortation to all “to keep his or her vision alive and fresh at all costs.”  He commented in a 1953 lecture, “We all know that a dead poet lives in many a live stockbroker.  Many of these people before they fade into the light of common day, have had an intuitive glimpse which neither age, nor experience, nor knowledge, can ever give them.”  Intimations of Immortality was begun about 1925, interrupted by World War II, and completed in 1950 only four months before a commissioned performance.  The final scoring and copying became a nightmare with all-night sessions and two copyists struggling to complete the work.  When Vaughan Williams attended the rehearsal, he became convulsed with laughter upon reading the title page of the printed scores:  “Intimations of Immorality. That discovery meant that a team of volunteers had to paste labels over the incorrect titles before the scores could be sold.  (One present-day web site has the CD listed as “Imitations of Immortality.”)

After the British premiere of his musical ode, Gerald Finzi told a friend that “It is too much to think that it will become part of our choral repertoire… but a few friendly souls in a century or two may find something likable [ in it ] and that is pleasant enough to think about.”  Finzi was wrong in thinking it would take so long.  Critics seemed affronted that Finzi (with his very un-English name) had the audacity to set Wordsworth’s great poem to music.  In the next thirty years there were only 26 registered performances of Intimations in the United Kingdom, but in 1981 alone it was heard on six occasions.  Today Intimations of Immortality is an increasingly popular addition to the repertoire of choral societies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Gerald Finzi, his immune system compromised by treatments for Hodgkin’s Disease, contracted Chicken Pox and died in 1956.  With the friendship and encouragement of Vaughan Williams he had written over forty works, mostly for voice or chorus and orchestra.  The Mastersingers have previously presented Lo, the Full Final Sacrifice,For St. Cecilia, Farewell to Arms, and the American premier of Requiem daCamera.

Assabet Valley Mastersingers is grateful for the assistance of Pamela Blevins of The Finzi Society of America in providing some biographical material.