Finzi, Gerald & Joy – Papers and Library

Gerald Finzi met Joyce “Joy” Black when he rented a cottage from her in the early 1930s and had to call on her for help because a problem with the flue caused the cottage to fill with smoke.  They were married in 1933 at the Dorking Registry Office with Ralph and Adeline Vaughan Williams and Mags Black as the witnesses.

Gerald was born in London in 1901, but after his father’s death he and his mother moved to Harrogate.  There Finzi was able to study composition with the composer Ernest Farrar.  His first published work was ‘By Footpath and Stile’ (1921-22), a song-cycle for baritones and string quartet to texts by Thomas Hardy, whose work Finzi greatly admired. In 1926 Finzi moved back to London and began to study with R.O. Morris, and became acquainted with Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose influence he was always to acknowledge and who in 1928 conducted Finzi’s Violin Concerto.  Other acquaintances, included Holst, Bliss, Rubbra and Ferguson – who was also to become a life-long friend. In 1930 Finzi gained a teaching appointment at the Royal Academy of Music, but in 1933 he gave up the post after he married Joy and they moved back to the country.  The same year saw a complete performance of the song-cycle ‘A Young Man’s Exhortation’ (1926-29), his first noted success in London.

Joy was born in Hampstead in 1907 and was educated at Moira House in Eastbourne, where the family had settled after her father’s retirement. She studied violin and, after her marriage, sculpture and pottery at the Central School of Art and Design.  She spent time drawing friends and country people in conversation with Gerald. Her pencil portraits included composers such as, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Howard Ferguson, writers Ursula Le Guin, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, war poets Edmund Blunden and David Jones, and the conductor, Sir Adrian Boult.  In 1987, the Libanus Press published a collection of Joy Finzi’s portraits in a book entitled In That Place.

During the war years, when Gerald was drafted into the Ministry of War Transport, the Finzi’s opened their house to German and Czech refugees.

Gerald founded the Newbury String Players, in 1940, initially using local amateurs, reviving much neglected 18th Century string music as well as giving several premieres by his contemporaries.  Joy became the administrative force behind the organization of the Players and served as one of the second violinists. Together Gerald and Joy encouraged young musicians like Julian Bream and composers like Kenneth Leighton by providing them with engagements and performances of their compositions.

For more than 30 years, Joy worked tirelessly, first with her husband and later alone, to ensure that Ivor Gurney’s work, correspondence and the story of his life be preserved for future generations. Starting in the 1930s, Joy, Gerald and their friend Howard Ferguson undertook the massive task of sorting and cataloguing Gurney’s poetry and music.  In addition to preserving Gurney’s work, the Finzis also played important roles in the preservation and cataloguing of the music of Sir Hubert Parry.

With the return of peace Gerald began to receive a series of important commissions, namely, ‘Lo, The Full, Final Sacrifice’ (1946-47), a festival anthem; a larger scale ode ‘For St Cecilia’ (1946-47); a Clarinet Concerto (1948-49) and ‘Intimations of Immortality’ (1938-50).  He also worked on the music of Hubert Parry and edited the overtures of William Boyce for Musica Britannica. An all-Finzi concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1954 acknowledged his standing in Britain’s musical life.  A commission from Sir John Barbirolli for the 1955 Cheltenham Festival brought forth the Cello Concerto (1951-52,54-55).  His Cello Concerto was first broadcast the night before he died in September 1956. After her husband’s death, Joy along with her sons and Howard Ferguson founded the Finzi Trust and under its auspices most of Gerald’s music was recorded.

In addition to her drawing, Joy wrote poetry and published two collections: ‘A Point of Departure’ (1967), and ‘Twelve Months of the Year’ (1981).

Joy Finzi died in 1991 at the age of 84.

Sources: Gerald Finzi: The composer’s official website and The Art of Joy Finzi: A brief biography.

Archive Collection

Reference: MS 1399                    Date: 1894-1974                    Extent: 7 boxes containing c. 1200 items

The collection contains typescript poems collected by the Finzi’s, including over 700 poems by Valentine Ackland arranged by Sylvia Townsend Warner, and work by Ursula Vaughan Williams and Averil Morley. Correspondence includes letters from Edward, Lord Bridges, to Gerald Finzi 1950-1955, and around 170 letters and cards to Joy Finzi from Louis Bonnerot, Edmund Blunden, Valentine Ackland, Nigel Finzi and Helen Thomas. There is also a manuscript of Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘We field women’, a manuscript of Edmund Blunden’s poem ‘All on a summer’s day: a march’, a collection of 45 letters from Robert Bridges to Sir Hubert Parry, 1894-1898, and a copy of the address given by Joy Finzi on the opening of the Library’s Finzi Book Room in 1974.


Library Collection

Reference: FINZI BOOK ROOM                    Date: 1600s to 1900s                    Extent: About 6,000 printed volumes

The Finzi Book Room Collection consists of the literature collection of the English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). English poetry, especially that written during the collector’s lifetime, is a particular strength of the collection. Book collecting was a lifelong activity for Finzi, secondary to but parallel with his composition, in which choral works and settings of poetry are significant.

The following authors are well represented: Edmund Blunden, W H Davies, Walter De la Mare, John Masefield, Robert Graves, John Drinkwater and Siegfried Sassoon. Many modern books retain their dust wrappers and contain cuttings. Several copies were presented by those authors the Finzi’s counted among their friends and associates.

The collection was deposited in the University Library by his family in 1974, and was housed in a separate room on the 5th floor of the Library for over 30 years. The collection is now stored at Special Collections.


  • Nearly half the collection is catalogued and is searchable via the catalogue. The entire collection can be searched via two PDF catalogues:
  • Pauline Dingley The Finzi Book Room at the University of Reading : a catalogue. Reading, University of Reading, 1981.
    • Part 1: Introduction & Catalogue: Anglo-Saxon to 1800
    • Part 2: Catalogue: 19th and 20th centuries and Index.
  • `Quiet composure : the Finzi Book Room, Reading University’, Country life, 181:29, 16 July 1987, p. 118-119.

Associated Collections

  • The University of Reading Art Collection holds some drawings by Joy Finzi. Access to this collection is by appointment, and requests should be made to
  • The portraits of Joy Finzi were our Featured Item in January 2011.