Michael Finnissy was born in Tulse Hill, London in 1946. He was a Foundation Scholar at the Royal College of Music, London, where he studied composition with Bernard Stevens and Humphrey Searle, and piano with Edwin Benbow and Ian Lake. Afterwards, he studied in Italy with Roman Vlad.
Finnissy created the music department of the London School of Contemporary Dance, and has been associated as composer with many British dance companies including London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Ballet Rambert, Strider, and Second Stride. He has taught at Dartington Summer School, Winchester College, the junior department of the Royal College of Music, Chelsea College of Art, and is guest lecturer at many colleges and universities. He has also been musician in residence to the Victorian College of the Arts, the City of Caulfield in Australia, and the East London Late Starters Orchestra, and is an honorary member of New Music Brighton. In 1999 he was made Professor of Composition at the University of Southampton.
Finnissy has been featured composer at the Bath, Huddersfield, and Almeida festivals, and his works are widely performed and broadcast worldwide. In February 1999 a festival at Harvard University, Boston, was devoted to his music, and several world premieres took place at the 1999 Music Factory Festival in Bergen, Norway. As a pianist he is particularly associated with the commissioning and performing of new British work; composers who have written pieces specially for him include Elizabeth Lutyens, Judith Weir, James Dillon, Oliver Knussen, Nigel Osborne, Chris Newman, Howard Skempton, and Andrew Toovey.
In 1990 Finnissy was appointed President of the International Society of Contemporary Music. He was re-elected in 1993, and in 1998 was made an honorary member of the ISCM. In 1999 he was been appointed Senior Fellow of the KBC-chair in New Music at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium for two years. The appointment included the commission for a work for the Beethoven Academie, Onbevooroordeeld Leven.
1996, Finnissy’s fiftieth birthday year, saw recitals of the complete piano music by Ian Pace, recordings of orchestral and chamber works on NMC and the publication by Ashgate of Unknown Ground – a detailed book about Finnissy’s music. A cycle of CDs on the Metier label which includes Folklore, Gershwin Arrangements, works for string quartet, Seven Sacred Motets, and most recently Kulamen Dilan has been released to great critical acclaim and further discs are planned.
Finnissy’s epic piano cycle, The History of Photography in Sound, the product of several years’ work and lasting over five hours, received its complete premiere in January 2001 at the hands of Ian Pace. History’s fame has been increasing ever since with numerous performances, both of the complete cycle or individual movements, in many countries and by pianists including Nicolas Hodges, Marilyn Nonken, Mark Knoop, and Philip Howard.
Ensemble Expose gave the world premiere of greatest hits of all time at the 2003 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, while, in 2004, the London Sinfonietta performed In Stiller Nacht at the Festival Apsects des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui in Caen, France. In autumn 2004, Marilyn Nonken gave a recital of Finnissy’s piano music (including the American premiere of Folklore II) at a Composer Portrait concert at the Miller Theatre, New York. A number of the composer’s pieces were featured at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2004, and the world premiere of a song cycle for voice and piano, setting Whitman poetry, took place at Huddersfield 2006, Finnissy’s sixtieth birthday year.
In 2005 Michael Finnissy was the recipient of two British Composer Awards, which are given by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. Molly-House for ensemble won in the ‘Making Music’ category, a work written for COMA, for whom Michael is Artistic Director for their 2006 ‘Open Score’ project.
Earlier Finnissy works are published by United Music Publishers, and further information on other pieces can also be obtained from the British Music Information Centre.
Chris Newman: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 4, 6, 10 (mode 201)