Michael Finnissy Recordings

Michael Finnissy was born on 17th March 1946, at roughly 2 in the morning, at 77 Claverdale Road, Tulse Hill, London SW2. His parents were Rita Isolene(nee Parsonson) and George Norman Finnissy. At that time his father worked for the London County Council, assisting through his photographic documentation the assessment of damage to and re-building of London after the war.

Michael started to write music almost as soon as he could play the piano, aged about four and a half, and was tutored in both by his great aunt, Rose Louise Hopwood (Rosie).

He attended Hawes Down Infant and Junior schools, Bromley Technical High, and Beckenham and Penge Grammar schools. Music was not taught in any formal or examinable way, though not discouraged either. His best subjects were graphic art, mathematics and English literature.

He received the William Yeats Hurlstone composition-prize at the Croydon Music Festival, a factor which assisted his parents’ decision to let him apply to music college. He was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. Michael’s composition teachers at the Royal College were Bernard Stevens and Humphrey Searle. He was subsequently awarded an Octavia travelling scholarship to study in Italy with Roman Vlad.

Michael earned money for his studies by playing the piano for dance-classes: Russian-style classical ballet with Maria Zybina, John O’Brien and Kathleen Crofton; and jazz with Matt Mattox. After his studies in Italy, and with no formal qualifications, he continued to work in dance, freelancing, and at the London School of Contemporary Dance – where, with the encouragement of its course-director Pat Hutchinson, he founded a music department. During these years he worked with the choreographers Jane Dudley and Anna Sokolow from the pioneering era of modern dance, and in more experimental work by Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies, Jackie Lansley and Fergus Early.

Michael Finnissy’s concert debut as a solo pianist was at the Galerie Schwartzes Kloster in Freiburg, playing a concert mostly of first performances, Howard Skempton and Oliver Knussen as well as his own. In the meantime he had started to appear in Europe, firstly at the Gaudeamus Music Week in 1969 and thereafter until 1973, at Royan Festival (1974-6) and Donaueschingen.In many of these events he was twinned with Brian Ferneyhough, a friend since student days. His initial attempts at serious composition teaching, at Darlington Summer School in the mid-seventies, were also partnered by Ferneyhough.

In England, Michael’s early work had received encouragement from Ian Lake, Colin Mason and Martin Dalby. Two pieces had been published by International Music Publishers (Ascherberg), some others by edition modern in Munich and two by Suvini Zerboni in Milan. With the support of Bill Colleran he signed a contract with Universal Edition (London) in 1978, and subsequently with United Music Publishers and (in 1988) with his principal publisher Oxford University Press. Other works are available from Tre Media Verlag (Friederike Zimmermann) in Karlsruhe.

Michael had been a member of the ensemble Suoraan (founded by James Clarke and Richard Emsley) and then its artistic director since the early 1970s. He joined Ixion (founded and still directed by Andrew Toovey) in 1987 – in both of these groups he not only played the piano but also conducted concerts. In the late 1980s he was invited by Justin Connolly to join the British section of the ISCM, and from 1990 until 1996 he served as its President, travelling widely to Europe, Asia and Latin America. He has since been elected to Honorary Membership of the Society.

Michael has been attached to C.O.M.A. (initially known as the East London Late Starters Orchestra) since its inception, and hasbeen in residence as composer to the Victorian College of the Arts (in Melbourne, Australia) and to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney. His principal teaching has been at the Royal Academy of Music (London), Winchester College, the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven (Belgium), and at the Universities of Sussex and (currently) Southampton.

His work has been recorded for CD by Metier, NMC, and Metronome in the UK, and Etcetera and BVHaast (Holland), CRI (USA), Artifact Music (Canada), and ABC Classics (Australia).

A book on the music of Michael Finnissy – Uncommon Ground – edited by Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace, is published by Ashgate.