Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Gerald Finzi was born in London in 1901. During World War l, after his father’s death, the family moved to Harrogate, Where Gerald began to study music (his music teacher commented that the teenage Finzi was “very shy, but full of poetry”). He later studied at York Minster, and then moved to Gloucestershire and finally back to London. eventually gaining a teaching post at the Royal Academy of music in 1930.

In 1933, he married Joyce (Joy) Black, an artist, and in the same year they bought their Aldbourne house, Beech Knoll, at auction for £1800. Initially this was their retreat from London, but in 1935 they sold their London house and settled fully into their Aldbourne home where they brought up their two sons Christopher and Nigel, born in 1934 and 1936 respectively. Notable amongst the works that he wrote in Aldbourne are a set of choral songs to poems by Robert Bridges and his best-known choral work, Dies Natalis, to words by Thomas Traherne.
He enjoyed going for long walks on the Downs from Aldbourne. After one walk, he records in a letter: “not a soul
was seen the whole time. The sort of day in October that closes with a frosty mist and you come home to a fire and an egg for tea”. He also developed a keen interest in apple-growing, creating an orchard at Beech Knoll where some of his apple trees still stand. and he is credited with rescuing a number of rare apple varieties from extinction. Finzi also collected around 3000 volumes of English poetry. philosophy and literature, now in Reading University library; and around 700 volumes of books, manuscripts and printed scores of 18th century English music, now at the University of St Andrews.
In 1939, the Finzis moved from Aldbourne to Church Farm in Ashmansworth, a few miles south-west of Newbury. There, he founded the Newbury String Players, where he championed the music of neglected 18th century English composers such as Boyce and Mudge, and the (also neglected) Gloucester-born composer and poet Ivor Gurney (1890-1937), as well as his own music.
Finzi died Of Hodgkin’s lymphoma on 27 September 1956, aged 55, his cello concerto having received its first broadcast performance on BBC radio just the night before.
The Finzis’ elder son Christopher (Kiffer) is now 80. He became a noted conductor and interpreter of his father’s music, conducting first the Newbury String Players after his father’s death and then, from 1971 to 1997, the North Wiltshire Orchestra which was then based in Marlborough. In 1961, he married Hilary du Pré, the sister of the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who together were the principal protagonists of the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie, in which Christopher was played by David Morrissey. Nigel Finzi (d. 2010) was an accomplished violinist. and in the years following his father’s death, worked closely with his mother Joy in promoting his father’s music.