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This report is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

Gerald Finzi and British Poetry Neil Powell

The chairs they put out for Aldeburgh Festival concerts at Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, are sufficiently uncomfortable to induce nostalgia for those hinged seats, apparently made of woven breakfast cereal, at Snape Maltings. They are moreover bound together in threes, as if preparing to compete in a twelve-legged race, and the stone floor is far from even, so that the merest twitch on the part of a near neighbour can produce a sudden lurch in one's own support. That apart, there can be no more beautiful place to hear Mark Padmore singing and Craig Ogdon playing works by Dowland, Britten and Tippett on a summer's afternoon, the first half's Dowland songs ingeniously framing Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland, based on `Come, heavy sleep' which immediately precedes it. Warm sun floods the marshes and glints through the clear glass windows, the angels smile beatifically and even the carved bench-end gargoyles look less disgruntled then usual. Yet the telling juxtaposition of two great composers can't help prompting some reflection on the poverty of English song in the intervening three hundred years.

It seems curious that the incomparable store of lyric poetry in English is unmatched by a corresponding richness in song: there's much to enjoy, obviously, but nothing to rival the prodigious enterprise of Schubert or Schumann or Mahler in producing great settings of great poems. For reasons arguably connected with the fact that Britain was relatively untroubled by the revolutionary years of 1789 and 1848, the creative force of ...


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