Gerald Finzi: Eclogue
Although largely remembered now as a choral composer, Gerald Finzi also wrote some breathtaking orchestral music. Eclogue is composed for a solo piano and string orchestra and was originally intended to be part of a grand piano concerto that Finzi wanted to write in the late 1920s. However, the outer movements never seemed to come from Finzi, so he decided to rework this slow movement to be played on its own. The work was published postmouthly and the publisher named the work as we know it today.
Opening with a gentle motif from the piano, the atmosphere is perfectly set for what’s to come. The simple step movement, sometimes embellished by decoration, adds to the pastoral feel of the chief melody of the work. It’s said that Eclogue is based on an archaic form of poem that was intended to be a conversation between shepherds. Finzi’s captures the essence of the British countryside in such a nuanced way that it grasps you emotionally from the very start.
The strings enter, relaying the same motif from the opening piano section. The piano sits gently on top of the luscious, slow moving strings as they begin to work together to reach the first small climax of the work. With the basses offering a foundation for the rest of the strings, Finzi writes the cellos in a higher octave for quite a lot of Eclogue, which adds to the intensity and overall timbral effect.
The soloist plays a calm and nostalgic melody throughout, which uses a lot of single notes in the right hand, and accompaniment chords in the left. As the textures begin to get richer, the soloist beings to play more chordal themes.
The intensity is kept through the climax sections, with Finzi’s intelligent arrangement of the string parts shining through. After the first big climax of the piece the strings slowly die off to leave the soloist to develop the melodic theme further. The ensemble begins a call and response figure with the soloist, with the basses often being the main accompaniment to the soloist. This, of course, plays to the backstory of the music representing a conversation between shepherds.
The dynamics drop down to a humble piano, and the strings and piano come together to showcase the main melody once more. The mood here is notably more sombre than before, which was more reflective and nostalgic. The high octaves used on the piano in the interlude parts add to this feeling, with Finzi also using a bit more dissonance in the harmony than before. Really, it just adds some colour to the orchestrations.
The opening theme is played once more by the piano, this time with a delicate string accompaniment. The music comes to a warm end with the piano and orchestra slowly dying away in dynamic. The piano plays one final tonic chord alone to end the piece off.
Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue is a quintessentially British work that oozes nostalgia and sereness. It really is a shame that the work is seldom programmed today by chamber orchestras, because it is a truly restful work that could bring so much joy to others.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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