Gottfried Finger

Gottfried Finger


• 1660 1730


Finger was born in Olomouc in Moravia and worked there in the famous ensemble of the Prince-Bishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelcorno, in whose archive at Kromeriz Finger's earliest compositions are preserved. Finger was probably in Munich in 1682 and may have arrived London as early as 1685. Against stiff competition he received a post in James II's new Catholic chapel in 1687. In 1688 he published his Op. 1, dedicated to James II, and intended for use in the Catholic chapel.

When James II went into exile in 1688, Finger remained in London and started a successful freelance career and became a central figure in London's musical life. He published several popular collections aimed at the growing amateur music market, including the first set of sonatas for solo instrument and continuo ever to be published in England (1690). He was especially successful as composer for the theater, a part of his career that seems have begun in 1684, though his career in England came to an abrupt end when he entered the competition in 1701 to set Congreve's masque The Judgment of Paris and came only fourth, beaten by John Weldon, John Eccles, and Daniel Purcell. According to Roger North, "having lost the cause, 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 bin seen since." Finger then returned to the Continent and held posts at several important cities, including Breslau (Wroclaw), Berlin, Heidelberg, Dusseldorf, and Mannhiem; at the latter he laid the foundations for the Mannheim orchestra later made famous by Stamitz.

As a performer, Finger was a formidable bass viol virtuoso and was also capable on a number of other instruments, including the trumpet and lute. He also seems to have been among the early virtuosos on the baryton, a viol-like instrument with a set of strings behind the neck to be plucked by the thumb, an instrument for which Haydn later composed many pieces. He was heavily influenced by his Moravian and Bohemian contemporaries (Vejvanovsky and Biber in particular). Finger's style may have sat strangely with English audiences at first, but he never discarded the central European love for colourful instrumentation and musical inventiveness for which his native land is justly renowned.