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Commentary on BWV562


This Commentary is based on an unfinished C minor fugue, here transposed to D minor. Bach intended to add it to the Fantasia in C minor (BWV562), which he had written some twenty years earlier. Bach’s fugue subject is a horizontal representation of Finnissy’s 'Jesum' chords, with the same internal intervals. At around 2’20”, the brief other-worldly fragment in C sharp minor, against the tonal centre of D minor, may be seen as a large scale prolongation of the semitone in the theme and in the 'Jesum' chords.

Finnissy’s Commentary starts with Bach, and there are brief intrusions of ‘other’ music—capricious, dizzy, momentarily unstable. The composer has referred to the opening as a 'Birth of Fugue'. The Bach sections get shorter and shorter, the ‘other’ sections get longer and longer—until at the end it is the Bach that seems like an intrusion. Finnissy has spoken of 'trying to enact Bach’s techniques, but using different materials'. Three minutes into the music we are invited to contemplate Time again when a new texture begins; in the composer’s words 'there is a sense of time being completely suspended or frozen. It’s like watching clouds—there’s a stillness which is animated from within.' Jesum chords are now again used vertically, as Finnissy says: 'It’s like a musical anatomy lesson; we trade fugue for specific pitches. The fugue is turned through 90 degrees, so that the D minor tonality of the start is gradually replaced by a vertical set—it refocusses what the ear is hearing as a magnetic north—eventually one is left [again] just with the pitches G and D.'

I marvel at the variety of textures created by chamber organ, flute and violin. In more legato passages there is a deliberate mismatch between the two expressive melody instruments and the organ. In the frozen time sections, the instruments play chords or illusions of chords. One of the most beautiful and delicate textures occurs in the ‘other’ music (e.g. at 2’30”) when the chamber organ becomes a single line instrument, exactly equal in articulation and style with the other instruments. This is also the music material which most closely recalls Pierre Boulez, Finnissy having commented on the overall cycle’s structural similarities to Le marteau sans maître. Indeed, another parallel with the Boulez is the lack of a bass instrument, as discussed elsewhere. One could draw other parallels between the works—e.g. textures in this second Commentary, vocal shapes in the final section of Videte miraculum and rhetorical use of silence. Boulez uses a wider, more colourful palette of instruments, though without choirs or organs! However, Finnissy deploys an extra instrument—the building itself, with its resonance and its possible spatial effects.

from notes by Andrew Nethsingha © 2020


Finnissy: Pious Anthems & Voluntaries
Studio Master: SIGCD624Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD624 disc 2 track 8

Recording date
18 July 2019
Recording venue
St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Chris Hazell
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Finnissy: Pious Anthems & Voluntaries (SIGCD624)
    Disc 2 Track 8
    Release date: August 2020
    Download only
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