Judging from the music here, Gottfried Finger was a seriously impressive composer. Why is he still so little known and heard?

There are several reasons. First, his career in England overlapped for about 10 years with that of Henry Purcell – who, musically speaking, swept aside all the competition (although they two composers collaborated on several theatre projects). Second, Finger was cast in music history as ‘the loser’ in the so-called ‘Prize Musick’ competition of 1701.

Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen. Photos courtesy of Robert Rawson

This was an X-Factor-style contest, conceived by a group of mostly Whig noblemen (who also judged the competition) with the idea to discover the best opera composer in London. This was a period in England of unbridled anti-Catholic paranoia and, given the wars in Europe a good dose of xenophobia to boot, there was no way in the world a group of Whig nobles would have awarded the top prize to a foreign Catholic composer (Charles Burney reckoned that Finger was “perhaps the best musician” of the final four). Sadly, Finger’s music for the contest is lost – but nevertheless, the story of his coming...

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