Michael Finnissy was born in London in 1946. He started to write music almost as soon as he could play the piano, aged about four and a half, and was tutored in both piano and composition by his great aunt, Rose Louise Hopwood. He received the William Yeats Hurlstone composition prize at the Croydon Music Festival, a factor which persuaded his parents to allow him to apply to music college. He was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music where he studied composition with Bernard Stevens and Humphrey Searle. Finnissy was then awarded an Octavia travelling scholarship to study in Italy with Roman Vlad.
Supporting himself financially during these periods by playing the piano for dance-classes, Finnissy continued to work in dance after completing his studies. At the London School of Contemporary Dance, with the encouragement of its course-director Pat Hutchinson, he founded the music department. During these years Finnissy 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, including compositions by Howard Skempton and Oliver Knussen alongside his own. Subsequently he began to perform more regularly in Europe, firstly at the Gaudeamus Music Week in 1969 and thereafter until 1973, at the Royan Festival from 1974 to 1976, and at Donaueschingen. In many of these events Finnissy was twinned with Brian Ferneyhough, a friend since student days. Finnissy’s initial attempts at serious composition teaching, at Dartington Summer School in the mid-seventies, were also partnered with Ferneyhough. Since then his 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 and (currently) Southampton.
As a performer, Finnissy has been a member of the ensemble Suoraan, founded by James Clarke and Richard Emsley, and then its artistic director since the early 1970s. He joined Ixion, founded and still directed by Andrew Toovey, in 1987, not only playing the piano but also directing concerts with both groups. He has been attached to contemporary London ensemble CoMA since its inception. From 1990 until 1996 Finnissy served as the President of the International Society for Contemporary Music, travelling widely to Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He was later elected to Honorary Membership of the society.
Finnissy’s music is published by Universal Edition (London) and, since 1988, Oxford University Press.