NEWS

This has happened before. In 1452, John Whethamstede, Abbott of St Albans, planned a set of twelve stained-glass windows for the Abbey Library. These were about the mysteries of knowledge and included references to the composer John Dunstable.

Music and stained-glass are natural companions. Some artists have been very exact in establishing a connection between visual art and music: Paul Klee was undecided as to being a composer or a painter, and when he chose painting (as being, in the early twentieth century, more in need of his contribution) he made work that specifically parallels music.

For my part, the connection is more primitive and nebulous. I think that one can experience stained-glass as song, the abstract or musical qualities of colour, light, rhythm, movement, re-iteration being then further developed by narrative, by descriptive details and the depiction of things.

Gerald Finzi was extraordinarily generous in his appreciation and support of others. He revered Ivor Gurney, seeing him as Schubert’s representative as a song writer. It is lovely to have been able to celebrate the two English composers together in this chapel at Gloucester, a place with layers of meanings for each of them. And for the glass, it is very satisfying how much each set of lights enhances the other.

Finzi was at home in the imaginative world of other artists: “driven to compositions by the impact of the words”. So much of the lovely silvery, waterine clarity of his music is interwoven with poetry. He enables one to experience Hardy, Shakespeare, Bridges, Traherne differently. In a way, Finzi’s collaborations with great poets give permission for this collaboration, where I have attempted to enmesh something of the character of his work and preoccupations in this medium of stained-glass.

And what extremely interesting pre-occupations he had. Finzi was a noticer, a valuer of unacknowledged beauties. “If he cannot bring a cedar, let him bring a shrubbe” as he liked to quote from one of his seventeenth century writers. This valuing by FInzi encourages one to become absorbed in the depiction of … the bark of a yew tree; a violet; a sleeping poet; a scatter of dead oak leaves; a shrubbe. And he was a collector … of literature, of apples and of ways of experiencing our relationship with the past. In one of these lights we see a meeting in an orchard, Finzi greeting Boyce and Stanley, “shaking hands with good friends across the centuries”. The apples? Ashmeads Kernel; Pitmaston Pineapple; Adams Pearmain; Court Pendu Plat.

Finzi’s works are full of an aching sense of transience, with the beautiful melancholy that one finds in Hardy’s “proud songsters”:

“pipe as they can when April wears
As if all time were theirs”

Transience … and mortality:

“Golden lads and girls all must
as chimney sweepers come to dust”

“Voices from things growing in a churchyard”

“on the other side of the curtain, amongst the ill and sick”

And sometimes destruction:

“The end of our culture for centuries”

All of these ideas, these meanings, are set here in particular landscapes, landscapes significant to Finzi: Chosen Hill and May Hill in Gloucestershire; the the Kenwardstone and Chute Causeway above Ashmansworth; Bulbarrow and the Blackmore Vale.

In Robert Bridges’ words (from another Finzi setting)

“Constellated sounds ran sprinkling on earth’s floor”

Music becomes landscape, landscape becomes music.

FInzi did not need things to happen all at once:

“Tradition is a cable along which one can speak to infinity”

“I send my soul through time and space to greet you”

And “Intimations of Immortality”. That wonderful phrase, the title of Wordsworth’s poem and of Finzi’s great choral piece, and something of which is suggested – modestly – in this tiny final lancet of stained-glass – contains perhaps the very heart of what we can find in his music.

Tom Denny 2016