Post by Wayne Reimer <***@pacbell.net>
I've discovered another blind spot, which is the music of Michael Finnissy.
I've had his English Country Tunes for a long time, and recently went digging
around on the net, listening to samples of his stuff, and it all just sounds
like sludge. Grey, depressive, horrid sludge - although complicated, as if the
complication per se was expected to be its saving grace. Yeecch. No, it just
doesn't work for me. It sounds like a bastard son of Sorabji withdrawing from
heroin while also on a dose of bad LSD, locked in a cell with A. Petterson for
I guess I just don't get what is supposed to be the redeeming value in his
stuff. I find it painful, and not in an enlightening way. Maybe it's just a
Finnissy is enormously prolific (well over 200 works) and also very varied.
English Country-Tunes is a relatively early work, written at the age of 31,
which almost continually inhabits extremes of expression. For all the raw
power that I certainly perceive in that music, Finnissy himself would be the
first to admit that this and other works from that period of his output are
very didactic and somewhat binary in comparison to subsequent periods of his
musical development. He has engaged with a type of moderately complex modal
polyphony in a series of works from the early 1990s (e.g. his Seven Sacred
Motets which are recorded by Voces Sacrae on Metier). Most of his work from
1980 onwards makes allusions to other musics, 'classical' or otherwise, but
in a manner that is generally oblique and 'critical'; rather than bringing
in an allusion or quasi-quotation as a type of relief, comfort from
recognition, he tends on the other hand to estrange and defamiliarize his
'objects trouve', hollowing out some of their original harmonic content and
replacing it by his own, or combining multiple materials in an Ivesian
manner. Very rarely is allusion a form of simple nostalgia, on the contrary
he is trying in musical terms to deal with what this music means in the
light of today.
If you can find a copy (not so easy nowadays), I'd look for the disc on
ETCETERA which contains his Catana, String Trio and Contretanze, especially
for the middle work.
I suppose his music is painful in a certain way, and so often deals with
quite intense and sometimes harrowing emotional states, at least to my ears.
He's hardly very typical of British composers in that sense, though. Do you
know any of the music of James Dillon or Richard Barrett? Both were at one
point associated with some type of 'school' along with Finnissy and some
others (though the similarities between any such composers has always been
overestimated); anyhow, both are 'complex' but utterly unique composers.