JOY FINZI 1907-1991
Joy Finzi was a 20th century renaissance
woman who possessed extraordinary vision and a remarkable gift for anticipating
new trends before they began. She was an artist, sculptor, poet, musician,
and organizer who, as we say today, "made things happen".
And she was to be one of the most important people in Ivor Gurney’s
life even though they never met.
For more than 30 years, Joy worked tirelessly,
first with her husband Gerald Finzi and later alone in trying circumstances,
to ensure that Ivor Gurney’s work, correspondence and the story of his
life be preserved for future generations. Starting in the 1930s, Joy,
Gerald and their friend Howard Ferguson undertook the massive task of
sorting and cataloging Gurney’s poetry and music which was in the possession
of his friend and guardian Marion Scott.
Later, after Gerald’s death, it was Joy Finzi who
had to deal with the difficulties imposed by Gurney’s brother Ronald,
who, at times, threatened to destroy all of Ivor’s papers and refused
to allow publication of his work. At other times, Ronald threatened
to take legal action against Joy, warning her that "as my brother’s
administrator, I don’t intend to let anyone usurp my position".
Joy Finzi refused to let Ronald Gurney intimidate her. Eventually he
relented and placed Ivor’s papers in the Gloucester Library where they
remain today on permanent loan.
Joy Finzi was born Joyce Black in Hampstead on
March 3, 1907 to Ernest Black, a prosperous businessman, who was an
‘East India Merchant’, and Amy Whitehorn. Little is known of her father’s
family background but her mother was of Scottish descent. The Blacks’
eldest son, Harold was born in India in 1890 but died when he was 18
months old. A second son Geoffrey was born in 1892 in England and died
from blood poisoning at the age of 21. Joy’s younger sister Margaret
or ‘Mags’ was born in 1909.
Joy was educated at Moira
House in Eastbourne, where the family had
settled after her father’s retirement. Tall,
fair, graceful and radiant, the young Joyce
Black possessed the kind of beauty admired
by the Pre-Raphaelite painters and abilities
that ranged from music to tennis. She seemed
to excel at whatever she attempted. Early
on, Joy’s contemporaries recognized her extraordinary
abilities and one friend later described how
she stood in awe of Joy and "looked up
to her as one with brilliant gifts in everything".
She studied violin and, after her marriage,
sculpture and pottery at the Central School
of Art and Design.
Gerald Finzi met Joyce Black when he rented a cottage
from her in the early 1930s and had to call on her for help because
a problem with the flue caused the cottage to fill with smoke. Joy found
the young composer "singularly inarticulate...plain to the point
of ugliness. Inhibited and aware of it...I had never met anyone so sensitive
and capable of hurt but with such boundless vitality". But Finzi,
"like all who have known the shadows...had an immense capacity
for enjoyment. A great appreciation of many things — and infinite delight
& humour," Joy was to recall many years later. (1)
Gerald and Joy were married on September 16, 1933
at the Dorking Registry Office with Ralph and Adeline Vaughan Williams
and Mags Black as the only witnesses. They lived in London but soon
moved to Aldbourne, an attractive village in Wiltshire, where they bought
Beech Knoll, a substantial early 19th century house with
large grounds. Their first son, Christopher, was born in 1934; their
second son, Nigel, in 1936. In 1939, the Finzis moved to Ashmansworth
and their new home, Church Farm, designed by architect Peter Harland,
who had also created a house for composer Arthur Bliss. Their view looked
out across rolling fields and hills, the Hampshire Downs and, on a clear
day, the Isle of Wight, shimmering in the distance.
Joy’s first pencil portrait was of the six-year
old Christopher asleep. Gerald immediately recognized an unusually strong
gift and encouraged her to draw more. She spent time drawing friends
and country people in conversation with Gerald, an exercise which led
her to discover the "fascination of trying to catch a fleeting
aspect and learning that everything is laid down in the face and often
hidden in mobility". Her pencil portraits, which express force,
character and craftsmanship like those of Da Vinci and other Renaissance
artists, captured what was indeed hidden in the faces of a wide range
of subjects including composers Gerald Finzi, Ralph Vaughan Williams,
Howard Ferguson, writers Ursula Le Guin, Sylvia Townsend Warner, war
poets Edmund Blunden and David Jones, conductor Sir Adrian Boult and
people who led quiet, ordinary lives like "Smithy — Mrs. Smith
— Country child — London char" and "Pu", Howard Ferguson’s
Irish Nanny from County Monaghan. In 1987, the Libanus Press published
a collection of Joy Finzi’s portraits in a book entitled In That
Place. Her portrait of Vaughan Williams is in the collection of
the National Portrait Gallery in London.
During World War II, the Finzis opened their home
to German and Czech refugees and anyone who needed shelter. Gisa Cartright
recalled that "Mrs. Finzi rescued me from London where I was very
unhappy in my job as a domestic, and gave me work as a cook. I had come
from Germany straight after leaving school before the war in 1938 and
was a refugee. I had nobody to turn to. There suddenly was dear Mrs.
Finzi to help me. Coming to Church Farm and working for her was like
stepping from hell into paradise."
Joy also became the administrative force behind
the organization of the Newbury String Players, which had been founded
by Gerald in 1940. Joy’s job was to find the players. She also served
as one of the second violinists. Later both Christopher and Nigel joined
their father’s amateur orchestra. Together Gerald and Joy encouraged
young musicians like Julian Bream and composers like Kenneth Leighton
by providing them with engagements and performances of their compositions.
In addition to preserving Gurney’s work, the Finzis
also played important roles in the preservation and cataloguing of the
music of Sir Hubert Parry.
After Finzi’s death in 1956, Joy along with her
sons and Howard Ferguson founded the Finzi Trust and under its auspices
most of Gerald’s music was recorded, first with Lyrita and later by
Hyperion, Chandos and EMI. The work of the Finzi Trust has never been
limited to Finzi’s music alone and has supported recordings and performances
of music by other composers, including Gurney. Joy also encouraged artists
in all fields and took a particular interest in the paintings of Benedict
Rubbra, the son of composer Edmund Rubbra.
Joy eventually moved to her cottage Bushy Lease
in Leckhampstead, where she built a studio that looked out over a view
that had not changed in centuries — fields, an ancient cottage, the
distant hills, nothing that marked the landscape as being of the 20th
century. Her home was surrounded by gardens and attracted a variety
of wildlife, particulary birds that Joy fed every morning. Her home
was always open to friends and became a sanctuary for those who needed
a break from the pressures of work or neighbors who dropped by for a
"One almost felt that she had some intuitive
rapport with natural life, some atavistic resonance with the past which
were embodied in the character of cottage and garden...Frequently she
reminded me of the timeless, eponymous sage of Edward Thomas’s poem
‘Lob’,’ recalled Andrew Burn, a founder of the Finzi Trust Friends.
In addition to her drawing, Joy wrote poetry and
published two collections: A Point of Departure (1967), with
engravings by Richard Shirley Smith, Twelve Months of the Year
(1981) with engravings by Simon Brett.
In March 1991, Joy suffered a broken hip in a fall
at her home and endured two operations since the first one to fix her
hip was done incorrectly. She did not want her life prolonged unnaturally
and returned to the home she had shared with Gerald to be cared for
by her son, Christopher and his family. She was ready to die and refused
all food and medication.
"It was a great relief for all of us for her
to return to Ashmansworth, and get out of a hospital dedicated to making
you live," recalled her son Nigel. When Nigel returned to England
from abroad, he found his mother "still just able to talk, as she
lay in peace looking out over the green hills, with the spring flowers
and blossoms in full array. This green world, or light, was a wonderful
delight to her, and all she wanted to do between sleeping was see it
and sense it," said Nigel.
"The everyday world, as we see it, was not
with her, and her daily observations of her magical view from her bed
were whispered, ‘how beautiful’, ‘that green’, or ‘how lucky I am’.
She was untroubled and waiting to leave," Nigel continued in a
tribute to his mother. "Joy seemed to defy the normal patterns
of departing from this world as she slowly and peacefully ebbed away
Joy Finzi died on June 14, 1991 at the age of 84.
© PAMELA BLEVINS, 2000
1. Other people found Gerald "strikingly handsome" with his
black hair and steel-blue eyes.