Finger: Sonata for oboe, trumpet and continuo

Gottfried Finger was born in the Czech Republic, and arrived in London in his mid-twenties ready to make a name for himself as a composer. Once there, however he was quite content to remain exactly what he had been when he arrived: a central European oddity, committed to expanding the instrumentation of his works and to drawing on inspiration from his homeland. He quickly obtained a post in the Catholic chapel of King James II in 1687– unfortunately for him, only a year before James was deposed and exiled in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. No matter; Finger noticed that there was an expanding market for music aimed at amateur recorder players, and shifted his focus from Catholic liturgy to home recorder music and compositions for the theatre.

He was also well-known as a performer: his most significant proficiency was on the bass viol, and he was also an early pioneer of the baryton, an instrument similar to the viol but with an extra set of strings on the neck intended to be plucked with the thumb. He also played, well enough to describe their qualities in an unpublished treatise on music and to compose boundary-pushing music, the trumpet, bassoon, baryton, bass recorder, and the lute.

Finger was particularly noted for his new techniques on the trumpet: he had the ability, hitherto unheard-of in London, to use his lips alone to force non-harmonic notes on the trumpet into tune, and an article in the London publication The Gentlemen’s Journal described his minor-key music for the trumpet as “a thing previously thought impossible for an instrument designed for a sharp key.”

His Sonata for oboe, trumpet and continuo was published in 1700, immediately before his temper and high opinion of his own worth brought his time in London to a screeching halt and drove him to Germany to seek better fortunes. In 1701, Finger entered a competition to set William Congreve’s masque The Judgment of Paris to music. He came only fourth, and according to amateur musician Roger North describing the incident, “declared he was mistaken in his music, for he thought he was to be judged by men, and not by boys, and thereupon left England and has not been seen since.”