Composers: Gottfried Finger
Compositions: Music for European Courts and Concerts
Performers: The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen, Robert Rawson
Catalogue Number: Ramée RAM1802
Stravinsky may be the exception that proves the rule, but history has never been kind to musical nomads. Had Gottfried Finger (c1655-1730) stayed in his Moravian homeland or remained in England where he was once a fixture on the London cultural scene, he might have been owned and celebrated by one country or another. As it was, his wanderings left him momentarily adored by one and all, yet ultimately remembered by none.
Taught on the continent by the likes of Biber, by 1687 Finger had wound up in England playing in James II’s Chapel Royal, and by 1693 he was running a popular London concert series. Acclaimed for his choral and theatre music, things were definitely going Finger’s until, in 1700, he entered the contest to set Congreve’s The Judgement of Paris. Up against John Eccles, John Weldon and Daniel Purcell, Finger came an ignominious fourth. “Having lost the cause,” wrote Roger North decades later, “[Finger] declared he was mistaken in his musick, for he thought he was to be judged by men, and not by boys, and thereupon left England and has not been seen since.”
England’s loss was Europe’s gain to judge by the collection of music rounded up here by the fabulously monikered Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen (at least half of whom are ladies, I hasten to add) under founding director Robert Rawson. Spanning several decades, including a couple of examples from his London period, this is music that fairly leaps of the page for its spirit, ingenuity and sheer likability. As a sort of permanent ex-pat, Finger combined his experience of the older central European polychoral style with an awareness of the new Italian bravura lyricism and an English instinct for a good tune. At his best, as a technician and melodist he rivals Purcell, or even Handel. Indeed, play this disc for blindfold guests and those are the names most likely to be plucked from the air, especially those numbers graced by a peculiarly British predilection for trumpets and drums.
Just listen to track two, the Sonata a Tre Chori in C, likely a relic of his London concerts. As full of bounce as a new puppy, it passes through a lively sequence, each shift of meter as catchy a the last. The trio of trumpets are beautifully balanced against the timpani and especially against the clatter of the David Wright’s harpsichord and Rawson’s smooth bass. Purcell would have been proud to own it as an overture, perhaps, to his Fairy Queen. And if it’s stateliness and grace you want, try the lilting pair of chaconnes, again both from Finger’s British sojourn, or the elegant suite from Congreve’s The Mourning Bride.
From the composer’s later time on the continent comes a fine Sonata a 5 in B Flat, a delicate oboe concerto written for the court of Sophia Charlotte of Hanover and gloriously played Mark Baigent and the Tickle-Fiddle strings. The charming Concerto a 6 in F includes movements to showcase recorders and – typical of the German and Austrian courts – hunting horns. These movements wouldn’t feel out of place as part of Handel’s Water Music.
But it’s the London music that impresses the most, works like the grand Sonata a 6 in D with its double trumpets and oboes and – best of all – the Sonata 9 in G Minor, an instrumental arrangement of Purcell’s “How happy the lover” from King Arthur possibly intended as a tribute to Finger’s great contemporary who had died in 1695 at the age of only 39. The recording concludes with a delicious number for recorder consort and voices in the ‘sleep scene’ from Alexander the Great, one to Finger’s two surviving semi-operas. Let’s hope the Tickle-Fiddle Gents have their sights set on a complete recording.
Gottfried Finger: Music for European Courts and Concerts is Limelight‘s Recording of the Month in June. Read our interview with Robert Rawson here.