The Oldman Prize is awarded by IAML (UK & Irl) to an author or joint authors of a work deemed to have made a significant contribution in the area of music bibliography or musicology in the year prior to its being awarded.
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 observed 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”, the committee 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 inclusion of portraits by the artist Joy, Finzi’s wife, were also appreciated; indeed, the committee’s only minor complaint was that they’d have liked to see a few more facsimiles of the letters themselves, particularly as the editorial notes discuss his handwriting style.
C. B. Oldman Prize committee 2023
Image from Wikimedia Commons – Licence Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)