Finger, Godfrey (DNB00)

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FINGER, GODFREY or GOTTFRIED (fl. 1685–1717), composer, a native of Olmütz in Moravia, came to England probably about 1685. This date is fixed by the preface to his first composition, 'Sonatæ XII,' in which he says that it was the fame of James II which led him to bid farewell to his native land. The work was published in 1688, but from his calling the king 'tutissimum contra æmulos et invidos zoilos patrocinium' it may be inferred that he had at that time been long enough in England to make enemies, who no doubt resented the intrusion of a foreigner. The title of his opus primum is 'Sonatæ XII, pro diversis instruments . . . authore Godefrido Finger Olmutio-Moravo Capellæ Serenissimi Regis Magnæ Britaniæ Musico' (no publisher's name is given). A beautifully engraved frontispiece shows the composer protected by Minerva, offering before a bust of the king his musical production, on which is inscribed the motto, 'Puras non plenas aspice manus.' A false interpretation of this title seems to have given rise to the impression that Finger was appointed chapel-master to the king (Roger North, Memoirs of Musick, ed. Rimbault; Grove, Dictionary), but it is plain that no such office was claimed in the title, and it is also almost a matter of certainty that Nicholas Staggins held the post during the whole period of Finger's residence in England. For some time Finger was no doubt a member of the king's band. His Op. 2 (published by Walsh) consisted of six sonatas for two flutes, and in 1690 he published (privately, according to Rimbault) 'VI Sonatas or Solos,' three for violin and three for flute, dedicated to the Earl of Manchester. On 5 Nov. 1691 a set of 'Ayres, Chacones, Divisions, and Sonatas for violins and flutes,' composed by Finger and John Banister, was advertised in the 'London Gazette' (No. 2712) as being on sale at Banister's house. Shortly afterwards, says the authority above quoted, he joined Godfrey Keller in a set of sonatas in five parts for flutes and hautboys (Playford, General Catalogue, 1701). Other instrumental works are stated by Hawkins to be in Estienne Roger's catalogue. On 5 Feb. 1693 Finger's setting of Theophilus Parsons's ode on St. Cecilia's day was performed 'at the consort in York-buildings' (advertised in the 'London Gazette,' No. 2945). He had already begun writing music for the theatre, having made a first attempt in this new capacity in the previous year, on the production of Southerne's 'Wives' Excuse' at Drury Lane. The list of plays for which he wrote music is, as far as can be ascertained, as follows : Congreve's 'Love for Love,' 1695, and 'The Mourning Bride,' 1697 ; Ravenscroft's 'Anatomist,' in which was inserted the masque by Motteux, entitled 'The Loves of Mars and Venus,' 1697 (the music, written in conjunction with J. Eccles, was published by Heptinstall and dedicated to Sir Robert Howard) ; N. Lee's 'The Rival Queens' (with Daniel Purcell) ; Elkanah Settle's 'Virgin Prophetess,' Baker's 'Humours of the Age,' Mrs. Trotter's 'Love at a Loss,' Cibber's 'Love makes a Man,' and Farquhar's 'Sir Harry Wildair,' all in 1701. These were most probably written, though not performed, before the 'Prize Music,' as it was called, was publicly heard. On 18 March 1699 the 'London Gazette' contained an advertisement to the effect that 'several persons of quality' had offered a sum of two hundred guineas for the best musical settings of a certain work not named in the advertisement. This was Congreve's masque 'The Judgment of Paris,' and the four prizes were to be in this proportion : one hundred, fifty, thirty, and twenty guineas. As to how long a time was allowed for the work information is not forthcoming; the successful compositions were, however, performed early in the new century. The prizes were awarded in this order : John Weldon, John Eccles, Daniel Purcell, and Godfrey Finger. The early authorities seem to agree in considering Finger to have been the best of the competitors, and the award is generally explained as the result of animosity against a foreigner. At this point of musical history English music enjoyed for a brief space exceptional popularity. The foreign element which had made its appearance with the Elizabethan madrigalists had died out, and the advent of the Italian opera and Handel did not take place until a few years later. The judges of the compositions were not masters of the art, but members of the fashionable world. The Hon. Roger North says, in recounting the history of the affair in his 'Memoirs of Musick' (ed. Rimbault, p. 117) : 'I will not suppose, as some did, that making interest as for favour and partiality influenced these determinations, but it is certain that the comunity of the masters were not of the same opinion with them. Mr. G. Finger, a german, and a good musitian, one of the competitors who had resided in England many years, went away upon it, declaring that he thought he was to compose music for men and not for boys.' Some authorities allege as the reason of his departure the inadequate performance of his work, which Fétis states, but without giving his source of information, to have taken place on 11 March 1701. In 1702 he was appointed chamber-musician to Sophia Charlotte, queen of Prussia, and for some years he lived at Breslau. After the queen's death an opera, 'Der Sieg der Schönheit über die Helden,' was performed in Berlin in December 1706. It was composed by Finger and A. R. Stricker, and the ballets were by Volumier. He is said to have produced another opera, 'Roxane' (Telemann's account, quoted by Mattheson), but the fact that Stricker wrote an opera, 'Alexanders und Roxanens Heirath,' produced at Berlin in 1708, makes it uncertain whether Telemann was not in error, especially as he does not express his meaning very lucidly. In 1717 he was appointed chapel-master at the court of Gotha. He is said to have held the title of 'Churpfalzischer Kammerrath' at the time of his death, but the date is not forthcoming.

[Sonatæ XII, &c., title quoted above ; Hon. Roger North's Memoirs of Musick, ed. Rimbault, 1846, p. 117 et seq. and notes; Grove's Dict. i. 524, &c. ; Burney's Hist. iii. 579, iv. 632; Hawkins's Hist. (ed. 1853), 701, 764, 824; London Gazette, references given above ; Tetis's Dictionnaire, sub voce ; Mattheson's Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte, Hamburg, 1740, p. 362 ; Schneider's Geschichte der Oper, &c., 1852, pp. 23, 24; Addit. MS. in Brit. Mus. 31466, consisting of sixty-six sonatas for violin, thirteen of which are by Finger. Manuscript scores of the music in the 'Rival Queens' and the 'Virgin Prophetess' are in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.]

J. A. F. M.