C.B. Oldman prize 2022 (2021 publications)

Gerald Finzi’s Letters, 1915-1956, edited by Diana McVeagh.  (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2021).  ISBN: 978-1-78327-572-4.  xxvi, 1052pp.

This publication of Finzi’s correspondence of 1571 letters, to and from Finzi, mostly with other musicians, but also literary correspondents, publishers, and family, must surely be comprehensive.

It is divided into six periods: youth & musical education (1), early years of marriage (2), war years (3 & 4), post-war return to musical activity & period of final illness (5 & 6), with chapters headings which are sometimes witty in the context of the composer and his works.  In addition to the letters the volume includes a brief biographical framework, list of correspondents, chronology, Finzi’s circle, catalogue of works, writings, index of compositions, and index of names.

The volume contains a rich biographical source for Finzi research, but also illuminates the musical life of the UK in this period and therefore includes the first impressions of new works by other composers.  The potted biography in the preface and the chronology, along with the succinct biographies of ‘Finzi’s circle’ at the back were noted as extremely useful.

The committee liked McVeagh’s charming description of the nature of this correspondence as “conversations on paper”, and feels that the reader would certainly be dipping into the composer’s living or composing room, or be on one of his walks, and “listening” to these conversations.

The committee felt that the entries contained contextual notes preceding each letter, alongside the footnotes, allowing the reader with a background in the subject enough guidance through the correspondence but that maybe a general reader might need a little more background.  Although the editor writes “some readers may deem the foot-notes over generous” we thought that they were all essential and that more would have been appreciated.  The letters are concisely annotated with a broad brush of editorial correction to iron out the composer’s intentional and unintentional mis-spellings.

The size of the opus, at over 1000 pages, made the committee wonder whether the physical volume itself would suffer over time, and that maybe a two-volume work would have been a preferred format; public library borrowers might be put off by the physical size (and time allowed for borrowing) although we appreciate that most readers are likely to come to this volume as quick reference via the index, for reading about a particular composition by the composer, or for a reading of a period of time (rather than a complete reading of the entire volume).  The inclusion of portraits by the artist Joy, Finzi’s wife, were appreciated; we would have liked to see a few more facsimiles of the letters themselves particularly as the editorial notes discuss his handwriting style.  The cover is rather fun with five variations of Finzi’s initials, in different colours, above the “typewritten” title, striking a chord between old and modern fashion.

The committee commends this volume for the C.B. Oldman award for the year 2022.