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Edwin Finckel Music for Cello

A collection of pieces for cello composed by David Finckel’s father, Edwin Finckel, and performed by David and Wu Han.

Edwin Finckel
Suite for Cello and Piano "Of Human Kindness"
Pastorale, Brief Encounter, Portrait
Dialogue for Cello Alone
Songs of Spring
Variations on a Theme, "Willow Weep for Me"


Wu Han (piano), David Finckel (cello)




Notes on the Music:

Suite for Cello and Piano "Of Human Kindness"
By Edwin Finckel

When I was asked to compose the music for the Paul Sanasardo Dance Company, I was told that it was to be a piece in five movements representing certain basic emotions such as anger, fear, love, etc. As I began working on the music and attending rehearsals, the production seemed to take on a broader concept than had been presented to me originally. In the total dedication of the company, the hours spent perfecting certain ideas and movements related to the piece, I saw a multitude of emotions experienced by all before the final rehearsal. When I finished the score, I found that I had created my own scenario of not only the basic emotions but also of the indomitable spirit of man to overcome and survive all the pitfalls encountered in his walk through life. The original score is for small orchestra and soprano. In the transcription for cello and piano the cello not only plays the instrumental sections but also most of the voice parts which were originally intoned without text.

In the first movement, a newborn soul is confronted with forces of evil. There follows a dialogue between the two with the theme of the soul seeming to gain in strength. The soul then goes through many life experiences and emotions almost childlike in nature. The experiences intensify and culminate in a game of hide and seek that comes to an end at the reappearance of evil. There is another dialogue between them but this time the soul overcomes with a stronger and more mature conviction.

The second movement represents the feelings one has upon thinking of things past -- childhood dreams, the sadness that overtakes for no reason, the first encounter with love, the first disappointment with love, and one's first contemplations of the mysteries of life, death and the universe.

The third movement is pure anger and frustration, with an occasional asking "Why?" The fourth movement says "life is like a crazy waltz." We go through life trying to keep in step, never really wanting to see all the horrors around us, yet knowing they are all out there. This is not a "Valse triste" nor is it the comic "La Valse" but a dance with the tenuous balance between sanity and insanity constantly being brought into play. There is a strong statement near the end that implies a certain understanding of life but finally the satirical first theme takes over to end the movement.

Movement five is a picture of the world enveloped in a technological development beyond all imagination. Will love, reason, beauty, kindness, and mankind along with them, survive? The work ends with both factions racing toward the final cadence.

Pastorale, Brief Encounter, Portrait
These works show the composer in his most romantic vein, albeit in three varying tonal styles. Pastorale is distinctly French in color and harmonic content, unlike any other music on this recording. Brief Encounter, which also exists in a version for cello quartet, is more chromatic in style with constantly shifting key centers. Portrait, by contrast, is stable harmonically but with soaring melodic lines.

Songs of Spring
These pieces, taken from the composer's Spring Suite for chamber ensemble and narrator, are based on three famous poems about spring, two by e.e. cummings and one by Gerard Manley Hopkins. "The poems spoke to me and produced the music through me."  -Edwin Finckel

Dialogue for Cello Alone
Almost two works superimposed, the fast and slow sections may be heard as connecting together to form two completely contrasting pieces. One constantly and unexpectedly interrupts the other, creating an unsettled feeling for the duration of the work.

Variations on a Theme "Willow Weep for Me"
The only work on this recording which draws on the composer's extraordinary background in jazz, these variations on a popular song by Ann Ronel exist in versions for several different solo instruments, with piano or chamber orchestra accompaniment. The premiere took place not at a cello recital, but at one of Finckel's annual jazz benefit concerts, with the composer's son surrounded by a back-up band of jazz legends including Mousie Alexander, Al Cohn, Marky Markowitz, Sonny Russo and Milt Hinton.

Behind the Scenes

Edwin Finckel: Music for Cello
By David Finckel

This disc is the very first ArtistLed recording. My father and mother had made the mistake of retiring to Florida and we managed to use the recording sessions to entice my father back to the New York area. While he was at the sessions, my mother looked at real estate, and the result was that we really managed to get them to move back closer to us through the recording.

We made this record in the winter in a freezing church on Long Island. The church folks were not all that happy about our being there. In the middle of the week one of the important members of the congregation died and we had to move the piano and all the equipment out for his funeral. But the place had a great sound. Such are the compromises in comfort one is sometimes called to make for the sake of art!

Ever since I was a baby my life has been filled with my father's music. It's as natural a language for me as English. Over the years he wrote many works for me, in changing styles and moods. But it was not until I actually assembled all of them together that I realized what a significant body of literature it is.

The Suite "Of Human Kindness" is some of the very first "serious" music that he composed after drifting away from the jazz idiom.  It was composed for the Paul Sanasardo Dance Company and I can still remember going to the rehearsals as a little kid and being totally entranced. It's a rather dark piece at the outset, but lightens up in the waltz and turns triumphant, even defiant, by the end.

The other pieces on the disc range from very tonal to not-so-tonal, but one never has the feeling that the composer has written random notes. Indeed, the more I listen now to the Spring Suite, for example, the more depth and meaning I find in every pitch, and the more affected by them I become.

The Willow Variations is a real tour-de-force in his home genre. I had hoped to get him to record a solo piano album, as his improvisation was incredible. But for now listeners will have to imagine it, from hearing the beautiful lines which he wrote for me.

Edwin Finckel (1917-2001)
An Extraordinary Creative Life

Edwin Finckel was born on December 23rd, 1917, in Washington DC, to a patent attorney father who played the cello and a firebrand Irish mother who played the violin.  He was the youngest of six children, and his siblings George, Rosemary, Constance, Agnes and Frances were all musical - some ofthem attended the Eastman School of Music and became professional musicians. 

Eddie’s mother, having pushed his older brother and sisters into rigorous music study, decided to leave Eddie to his own devices; also, his father had not wanted the youngest son to go into music.  However, Eddie’s early exposure to classical music – hearing the practicing of his brother and sisters, and his parents playing in their string quartet – drove him into the basement to learn the piano on his ownHe emerged a year later playing astonishingly well (with very unconventional fingerings) and reading not a note of music.  By simply listening to recordings he had learned to play and compose music of all kinds, and it was not until years later that he would learn to read musical notation and develop a conventional technique. He learned jazz in the most pure and organic way, by studying and reproducing the innovative solos of his idols - among them Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and Art Tatum.

During high school years Eddie developed an interest in the visual arts and won a scholarship to the Corcoran School of Art. He was also an accomplished tennis player, and was courted by scouts to join professional teams.  But he became increasingly focused on music, and by the age of eighteen was performing regularly in jazz clubs and on Arthur Godfrey’s famous radio show.  He was often referred to as “father” among jazz musicians for his uncanny improvisation abilities, and his musical growth continued under the influence of the famous musicians around him.

When the great tenor saxophone player Lester Young came to Washington with the Count Basie Band, he would move to the Spotlight Club after the Basie showwas over, improvising into the early hours of the morning.  Eddie Finckel was one of only a handful of outsiders allowed into the club, on account of Lester’s fondness for his playing.  This was his most consistent exposure to the legendary Young, whose sophisticated musicianship revolutionized and elevated the art of jazz improvisation.  

After turning down a scholarship to the Eastman School Eddie joined the Charlie Spivak band, and began the touring life.  Although he left within a year, he forged life-long musical friendships with the band’s many brilliant members. Rejected by the army, he and his wife Helen left Washington for New York, with fifty dollars between them, on July 4th, 1943.

Moving into an apartment on 22nd street, Eddie began composition studies with Otto Luening.  Union regulations prohibited Eddie from working for six months, and life would have been impossible had Helen not found a secretarial job.  Eddie began getting migraine headaches which lasted for days, during which he would sit in a darkened room listening to Debussy.  Eventually he began to play in jazz clubs on the famous 52nd Street, with more great musicians - Sarah Vaughn, Ben Webster - and he began writing and arranging for the Gene Krupa Orchestra.  He was one of the first jazz composers to incorporate strings in his arrangements, and he was widely admired for the striking originality of compositions such as“Leave us Leap”  for Krupa and “Boyd Meets Stravinsky”  for Raeburn.  He became the staff arranger for the Buddy Rich band, and later went to Hollywood to write for the film “George White’s Scandals”. 

As time went by however, the popularity of “Big Band” music began to wane, and with very little writing demanded, the couple went to Hollywood and stayed with Helen’s brother Harry, a noted flutist and successful studio musician.  After barely a half-year stay, they decided that Hollywood life was not for them.  Running out of money, their only option was to return to the rustic Pennsylvania farmhouse they had purchased a few years before, to try to “make it”

The tranquil beauty and simplicity of this country setting was not only a relief to Eddie and Helen but an attraction to others.  The composer Alec Wilder spent large amounts of time at the farm and collaborated with Eddie on a number of songs, including “Where is the One?” which was recorded by Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin.

The only music-related jobs in their area of Pennsylvania were occasional playing gigs and teaching accordion in the local music studio.  Eddie taught himself to play accordion and began to teach young children in the rural farm community.  Seeing a greater potential in the accordion as a concert instrument, he began to arrange and compose classical and popular pieces for accordion ensemble.  The Bell Accordion Symphony, under his direction, developed a “big band sound” and toured the East Coast, performing on television, winning competitions, and recording.

While living in Pennsylvania their son David was born, and Eddie accepted a position as Music Director at the Far Brook School in New Jersey, a progressive, arts-based private school, where he was allowed to teach in highly creative manner. Believing that even the youngest children could understand, appreciate and even perform music of the great classical masters, he established musical traditions at the school which are continued to this day. 

After the family moved to New Jersey, David began attending Far Brook, and Helen became the school secretary.  Teaching many instruments, directing the chorus, conducting the orchestra and composing for the students became the new focus in Eddie’s life.  In addition, he began to compose his first “classical”  concert music.  The “Kindness Suite” recorded here dates from this period, composed as a ballet score for the Paul Sanasardo Dance Company.  He also began composing for the theater, writing music for a Broadway production of Sean O’Casey’s “Red Roses for Me”.

During the 1960’s Edwin Finckel also began composing for his young cello-playing son.  The “Kindness Suite”  was transcribed from the original chamber version to cello and piano instrumentation, and was followed by a full-length concerto and many other works.  At the same time he founded the Young Artists Chamber Orchestra of New Jersey, a collection of the finest high school students in the state who performed under his direction.

In l963 Eddie and Helen founded Point Counterpoint, a summer chamber music camp in Vermont, which they ran for seventeen years and which still thrives under new directors.  Eddie continued composing heavily during these years, turning out a large amount of chamber, solo and orchestral works.  In addition, he occasionally would compose jazz, writing for an annual fund-raising event at Far Brook which re-united him with jazz greats such as Milt Hinton and Al Cohn.   In 1990 Edwin Finckel retired from Far Brook, having devoted thirty-nine years to the school.