Finzi’s “Farewell to Arms”: An Ode to the Aging Warrior

English composer Gerald Finzi (1901–1956) was too young to fight in the First World War, but he experienced personally the results of the carnage. Within a span of two weeks in 1918, combat claimed the life of his only remaining brother, as well as his teacher, the composer and pianist Ernest Farrar.

Finzi’s Farewell to Arms, Op. 9, a song in two parts for tenor and small orchestra, evokes melancholy remembrances of these events. Composed in the 1920s, the second part is a setting of the first two verses of His golden locks time hath to silver turned from the 16th century poet George Peele’s Polyhymnia. Finzi set the song aside until he discovered an accompanying text nearly 20 years later during the Second World War. The text was The Helmet Now, by the obscure seventeenth century poet and clergyman, Ralph Knevet.

Both poems center around the aging warrior confronting the unrelenting passage of time. Both contain a nearly identical line describing a soldier’s long-discarded helmet which has been reclaimed by nature to become a hive for bees. Blades, previously used as weapons, are put to productive agricultural use. The once-youthful soldier now falls to his knees in prayer.

The first part of the song functions as a recitative. The second is a Neo-Baroque aria which unfolds over a recurring walking bass line which evokes “the slow advance of time.” (Joseph Stevenson)

Farewell to Arms inhabits a world similar to that which we often encounter in the music of Finzi’s contemporary, Ralph Vaughan Williams. England’s “green and pleasant” countryside becomes a solitary space of nostalgia and lament.

I. Introduction:

II. Aria:


  • Finzi: Farewell to Arms, Op. 9, Richard Hickox, Martyn Hill, City of London Sinfonia

Featured Image: “A group of American soldiers along the Western Front fire a 37-mm gun at the German position in France on April 3, 1918.” Bettmann Archive

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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