The English composer, Michael Finnissy, was born in London to 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 me apply to music college. He was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. His 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. He earned money for my 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, Michael Finnissy 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.
His 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 (1974-1976) 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 Dartington Summer School in the mid-1970’s, were also partnered by him.
In England his 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. His music is characterised by the range of extremes often found in his work; opposing binary structures are found commonly, often seen as juxtaposing textures, register and tempi. Many of Finnissy's compositions are statements, or reflections, on topics of personal significance.
Michael Finnissy had been a member of the ensemble Suoraan (founded by James Clarke and Richard Emsley) and then its artistic director since the early 1970’s, 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 1980’s 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. He has been attached to C.O.M.A. (initially known as the East London Late Starters Orchestra) since its inception, and been in residence as composer to the Victorian College of the Arts (in Melbourne, Australia), the City of Caulfield in Australia, and to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney. He has been featured composer at the Bath, Huddersfield, and Almeida festivals, and his works are widely performed and broadcast worldwide.
Michael Finnissy’s 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. In 1999 he was made Professor of Composition at the University of Southampton.
2006 was Michael Finnissy’s 60th birthday year, and highlights included ‘The Finnissy Weekend’ (a series of concerts at the BMIC ‘Cutting Edge’ series), the world première of his song cycle Whitman at HCMF, and a full performance of his epic piano cycle The History of Photography in Sound. January 2008 saw the revival of his major orchestral work Red Earth by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, chosen by Judith Weir to form part of her BBC composer weekend. Finnissy was also featured composer at the Borealis Festival, Norway, and the Time of Music Festival in Finland in 2009. 2009 commissions included a stage work for mixed professional and amateur performers, Mankind, which received its London première at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music in May 2009, and The Transgressive Gospel, an evening-length setting of the Passion of Christ. The première was at Wilton's Music Hall on June 12, 2009 as part of the 2009 Spitalfields Festival and broadcast in full on BBC Radio 3's 'Hear and Now' programme in August 2009. One of Finnissy's most substantial works of 2010 was a commission from the New London Chamber Choir and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The work, Gedächtnis-Hymne, was premièred by the New London Chamber Choir and the Rascher Saxophone Quartet at the November Festival in the Netherlands, and then performed again at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November 2010.
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). Metier has released a cycle of CDs to great critical acclaim.