Gottfried FINGER (c. 1655-1730)
Music for European Courts and Concerts
The Loves of Mars and Venus (1696) - Prologue:
Come all, with moving songs prepare [0:54]
Sonata a tre chori in C [6:21]
Sonata a 5 in B flat [8:00]
Chaconne a 4 in G [3:43]
The Mourning Bride, incidental music:
overture - air - gavotte - air [8:21]
Sonata a 6 in C [4:50]
Chaconne a 5 in G [2:38]
Concerto a 6 in F [9:42]
Fantasia in g minor [8:15]
Sonata a 6 in D [3:56]
Sonata 9 in g minor [4:08]
Alexander the Great (1701):
Morpheus, gentle god [5:53]
The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen / Robert Rawson
rec. 2018, St Mary the Virgin, Bishopsbourne, UK
Texts with German and French translations included
RAMÉE RAM1802 [66:47]
Although there are several discs with music by Gottfried Finger, he is one of those composers whose name seldom turns up in a concert programme. He is quite an interesting figure, though, and it is intriguing to realise when and where he was born and died. The year of his birth is not known for sure; it is generally assumed it was around 1660. However, the first traces of his activities as a composer date from the early 1670s, and this suggests that he must have been born some years earlier. The place of his birth is known: Olmütz (now Olmouc in the Czech Republic); at his time the Prince-Bishop Karl II of Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn maintained one of the most renowned chapels in the German-speaking world in the nearby town of Kremsier. Among the members of his chapel were such famous virtuosos as the violinist Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and the trumpeter Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky. The chapel had also close ties with composers who worked at the imperial court in Vienna, such as Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Antonio Bertali. And then, Finger died in 1730 in Mannheim - one of the places where the style of the baroque would give way to a new aesthetic ideal, connected with the terms Empfindsamkeit and Sturm und Drang. In between he worked at several places, and his oeuvre shows the development of what we use to call the 'baroque style'.
Finger was educated on the viola da gamba and the trumpet; in addition he was able to play the violin, the recorder, the lute, the bassoon and the baryton. It was the viola da gamba which was to become his main instrument; he developed into a true gamba virtuoso, as his extant compositions show. In the middle of the 1680s he settled in London. He became a member of the (Catholic) Chapel Royal, but lost that job with the Glorious Revolution as King James had to leave the country for France. In the next years Finger played as a freelance musician and composed music for the stage. He was one of the contestants to the competition which took place in 1700 in which composers were invited to write the music on a libretto by William Congreve, The Judgement of Paris. Four composers took part, and Finger landed at fourth place. He considered this as the result of the partiality of the judges, and later Charles Burney seemed to share his view as he called him "the best musician perhaps among the candidates". The disappointment led him to leave the country in 1701 and never to return. Before his departure he sold his viols and a large part of his musical library. Apparently he wanted to close a chapter of his life.
By 1702 Finger worked in Berlin, at the court of the Queen of Prussia, Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, and four years later he was appointed Kammermusiker at the court of Karl Philipp, brother of Johann Wilhelm II, the Elector Palatine, to whom Finger had dedicated his sonatas Op. 5. Karl Philipp's court was near Breslau in Silesia (today Polish Wroclaw), but he moved to Innsbruck, when he was made Governor of Tyrol in 1707. Shortly thereafter Finger was given the position of Konzertmeister. When Johann Wilhelm died in 1717, Karl Philipp succeeded him and moved his court to Neuburg an der Donau, then to Heidelberg, and lastly, in 1720, to Mannheim, where Finger took the post of first Konzertmeister. Here he remained for the rest of his life.
The disc under review here aims at portraying the stylistic development of Finger in connection to the various stages of his career. The programme has not been put together chronologically, unlike the description of his life in the liner-notes. Therefore it is a bit complicated to follow the programme and the comments to the different pieces in the booklet. It would have helped, if the indication of the tracks had been set in bold type.
There is much variety in Finger's oeuvre, which reflects the various countries and regions where he has worked, but also bears witness to the fact that he was an exponent of the goûts réunis, the mixture of the various styles in Europe. This is mostly associated with the combination of the French and Italian styles, but in Finger's case, one has to add the influences from his formative years in Bohemia (Biber, Vejvanovsky) and from England, especially Henry Purcell. Finger must have been quite close to him, as he wrote an Ode at the occasion of Purcell's death. Unfortunately that work has been lost. To compensate for this, we get here the Sonata 9 in g minor, which is an arrangement of 'How happy the lover' from Purcell's King Arthur, for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. The programme closes with two excerpts from compositions for the theatre. Only two of his contributions to the genre of the 'semi opera' have survived complete. One of them is Alexander the Great, from which the sleep scene 'Morpheus, gentle god' is taken, set for four voices, a consort of four recorders and basso continuo. The morning bride is an example of incidental music, written for a play by William Congreve (1697). Here we hear four of the pieces from this work, in which Finger brings the Italian, Bohemian and English styles together.
The influences from Bohemia manifest themselves in the Sonata a tre chori in C. The three groups are scored for strings, woodwind (two oboes, taille, bassoon) and brass (two trumpets, timpani, basso continuo) respectively. This piece dates from his early time in England. However, in several later works we also find the traces of this style, such as the Chaconne a 5 in G. At one moment he mixes the rhythm of French chaconnes with the 'Scotch snap' rhythm. It is a token of the influence of the English style, which also comes to the fore in the other chaconne, which begins in a style that is close to that of Purcell.
From the post-London period we hear the Sonata a 5 in B flat, which could well have been written when Finger worked in Berlin. Robert Rawson, in his liner-notes, suggests that this piece, which has the character of an oboe concerto, may have been written for the famous oboist of the Dresden court orchestra, François Le Riche, who now and then also appeared in Berlin. In music from this period in his career Finger included parts for horns, such as in the Concerto a 6 in F. The inclusion of horns in wind ensembles was a German development, reflecting the importance of the hunt in aristocratic circles. This concerto is scored for oboe, two recorders, two horns and basso continuo. Two pieces may be connected to the last stage of Finger's career, when he was in the service of Karl Philipp. The Sonata a 6 in C is for two trumpets, timpani, strings and basso continuo and may have been written either for liturgical use or as a sinfonia to an opera. The Fantasia in g minor is scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo, and is another good example of Finger's ideal of mixing the various styles practised across the continent. It comprises seven movements; two adagios are merely transitional passages between two movements. Finger does not only mix various styles, but also three different forms: concerto, orchestral suite and trio sonata.
Over the years I have heard several discs with music by Gottfried Finger, but most of them included only chamber music, for instance violin sonatas or music for his own instrument, the viola da gamba. I assume that most - if not all - pieces performed here appear on disc for the first time. It shows Finger's versatility and great skills. This disc is a fascinating and musically compelling portrait of a composer, who is little more than a footnote in music history, but whose oeuvre fully deserves to be explored.
Around 1700 public concerts were organised by the coal merchant Thomas Britton. His neighbour was the satirical writer Ned Ward who described the musicians of these concerts as "the harmonious society of tickle-fiddle gentlemen". This has inspired Robert Rawson to choose the name of this ensemble. It focuses on music by English composers, such as Johann Christoph Pepusch, to whom their first disc was devoted (review). It is an excellent ensemble, whose performances of these fine works by Finger could hardly be better. All participants perform at the highest level. I am a little less overwhelmed by the vocal contributions, but these are too short to allow for a balanced assessment. They don't in any way compromise my great appreciation of this disc, which I have greatly enjoyed. I very much hope this ensemble will continue its exploration of Finger's oeuvre.
Johan van Veen