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Wood, Charles

(b Armagh, 15 June 1866; d Cambridge, 12 July 1926). Irish composer and teacher. A chorister at Armagh Cathedral, he was educated at the cathedral school. He received training in harmony and counterpoint (1880–81) from T.O. Marks, the cathedral organist, as well as encouragement from his elder brother, William Wood (1859–95), himself a professional musician. In 1883 he was elected to the Morley Open Scholarship in Composition at the newly instituted RCM where he studied composition with Parry and Stanford. He won an organ scholarship to Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1888 where, after five terms, he migrated to Gonville and Caius as organ scholar. In 1888 he was appointed to teach harmony at the RCM and the following year he was made a lecturer in harmony and counterpoint at Caius. He was elected a fellow there in 1894, and in 1897 he became university lecturer in harmony and counterpoint, succeeding George Garrett. At Cambridge, Wood was awarded the degrees of BA and MusB in 1890 and those of MA and MusD in 1894. Besides playing an active part as organist at Caius, he assisted Stanford as conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society (1888–94) and was bandmaster of the University Volunteers (1889–97). In addition to his work at the RCM he was an examiner for the Associated Board which took him to Australia (1901–2), was a founder member and vice-president of the Irish Folk-song Society (1904) and president of the Musical Association (1924). In recognition of his contribution to British musical life, he received an honorary PhD from Leeds University (1904) and an honorary DMus from Oxford (1924). In 1924, after Stanford's death, he was elected professor of music at Cambridge, a position he held for only two years until his death in 1926.

Wood is known today primarily as a composer of Anglican church music. His numerous settings of the evening canticles derive in part their thematic cohesion and textural variety from the example of Stanford though he rarely adopted the symphonic conception of his teacher. In his later settings, he showed a marked inclination towards contrapuntal and harmonic archaisms as demonstrated in his frequently performed Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in F ‘Collegium Regale’ for double choir with its elements of verse structure, antiphony and diatonic simplicity. A more intense antiquarianism, verging on the austere, is apparent in his a cappella settings of the Nunc dimittis for R.R. Terry at Westminster Cathedral (both 1916), his Communion Service in the Phrygian mode (pubd 1923) and the St Mark Passion, a preoccupation reinforced by his collaboration with the Rev. G.R. Woodward in the 1890s, which resulted in the publication of The Cowley Carol Book, The Cambridge Carol Book, An Italian Carol Book and the hymn book Songs of Syon. Wood's thorough assimilation of 16th-century models also assisted him in the production of a series of fine large-scale anthems, Hail, Gladdening Light (1919), Tis the Day of Resurrection (1927) and O King Most High (1932), though it is in his anthems with organ, notably O Thou, the Central Orb (?1914–15) and the exquisite Expectans expectavi (1919), that Wood's harmonic imagination is given full rein.

Between 1885 and 1904 Wood produced intermittently a series of cantatas modelled essentially on those of Parry and Stanford: On Time (1897–8) found a powerful precedent in Parry's Blest Pair of Sirens, while A Ballad of Dundee (1904) looked to the narrative designs of Stanford's Revenge and Voyage of Maeldune. His most original choral work was his setting of Walt Whitman's Dirge for Two Veterans (1900–01), cast, episodically, in the mould of a funeral march. The Dirge represented the zenith of his admiration for the poetry of Whitman, an admiration which earlier had produced a clutch of fine songs including Ethiopia Saluting the Colours (1898), also inspired by the style form of the march. Wood's earliest cantata, Spring's Summons (1885), set words from A.P. Graves's Songs of Killarney, though a collaboration between the two men did not commence until the late 1890s in a series of publications of Irish folksong arrangements very much in the manner and fashion of Stanford's collections that had first appeared in the 1880s. These publications in turn raised the profile and role of Irish melody in Wood's vocal and instrumental compositions.

Although instrumental and dramatic music forms a smaller part of Wood's sizeable output, it is clear that he retained an interest in both genres throughout his life. Though there are indications that he attempted a symphony, his only complete extended symphonic work is Patrick Sarsfield: Symphonic Variations on an Irish Air (1899) which adheres to the four-movement structural analogy of Parry's Symphonic Variations of 1897. From surviving sketches it is evident that he also began a full-scale opera Pat in Fairyland (to a libretto by J. Todhunter), but this came to nothing. Instead he joined the ranks of Macfarren, Parry and Stanford in providing scores for the Cambridge Greek Plays (Ion, 1890; Iphigenia in Tauris, 1894) and towards the end of his life produced two Dickens-inspired chamber operas A Scene from Pickwick (1921) and The Family Party (1923). It was, however, to the intimacy of chamber music, and, more specifically, to the string quartet that Wood consistently returned as is reflected in the series of six quartets edited by Dent and published posthumously by OUP in 1929.


(selective list)


SATB and organ unless otherwise stated

St Mark Passion, Tr, T, Bar, B, SATB, org, 1920

Mass, F, SATB, org, 1922

Cants: Spring's Summons (A.P. Graves), S, T, Bar, SATB, orch, 1885; Song of Welcome (Sir F. Cook), SATB, vn, hp, org, RCM 1887; Psalm 104, S, A, T, B, Bar, SATB, org, orch, 1886–7; Unto Thee Will I Cry, S, SATB, org, str, 1889; Ode to the West Wind (P.B. Shelley), T, SATB, orch, 1890; Music: an Ode (A.C. Swinburne), S, SATB, orch, 1892–3; The White Island (R. Herrick), S, A, T, B, SATBSATB, orch, 1894; On Time (J. Milton), SATB, orch, 1897–8, 1898; Dirge for Two Veterans (W. Whitman), B, SATB, orch, 1900–01, 1901 (1901); The Song of the Tempest (W. Scott), S, SATB, orch, 1902; A Ballad of Dundee (W.E. Aytoun), B, SATB, orch; ?1904; Eden Spirits (E.B. Browning), female vv, pf, ?1915

Anthems: Be Thou Exalted, 1882; O Lord, Rebuke Me Not, 1885; Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow, SATBSATB, 1886; O God of Hosts, the Mighty Lord, SSAATTBB, 1886; Through the Day Thy Love has Spared Us, SATB, 1886; O Rex gloriae, SATB, 1889; Try Me, O God, ?1890; Precamini felicitatem, 1890; I Will Arise, ?1893–4; Heaven, 1898; Oculi omnium, SATB, 1905; I Will Call Upon God, ATB, 1905; Glorious and Powerful God, 1910; Never Weather Beaten Sail, 1910; Great Lord of Lords, ATBATB, ?1912; O Thou, the Central Orb, ?1914–15; Summer Ended, 1917; Expectans expectavi, 1919, also with orch; Haec dies, SSATBB, 1919; Hail Gladdening Light, SATBSATB (1919); Glory and Honour and Laud, SSAATTBB (1925); Tis the Day of Resurrection, SATBSATB (1927); How Dazzling Fair (1929); Father All Holy, SATBSATB (1929); O King Most High, SATBSATB (1932); Once He Came in Blessing, SATBSATB (1935)

Other church music: Many settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Mag and Nunc settings: E (1891); D (1898); c (1900); F (1908); Tones VI, V, ?1910–11; G (1911); E (1913); A (1915); F ‘Collegium Regale’, SATBSATB, 1915; E (Sternhold and Hopkins metrical version), 1918; G, SATBSATB, 1915; Nunc (Lat., Eng.), B, SSATBB, 1916; Nunc (Lat., Eng.), a, SSATTB, 1916; Tones IV, I (1923); E (1927); Founded on melodies of Pss civ and cxxxlv (Genevan psalter) (1927)

Communion Service Settings: Phrygian mode (1923); c, SATB (1927); F ‘Missa Sancta Patricii’ (Ionian mode), 1922

TeD, Bs, Jub Deo and Nicene Creed settings; hymn tunes, carol arrangements

Solo songs: The Splendour Falls (A. Tennyson), 1886; Up-hill (C. Rossetti), 1886, also with orch; Goldthred's Song (W. Scott), 1886; They are All Gone into the World of Light (H. Vaughan), 1888; Lament of an Irish Mother (F.D. Hemans), 1890; The Windflower (H. Boulton), 1890; Darest Thou Now, O Soul (W. Whitman); By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame (Whitman), 1897; O Captain! My Captain (Whitman), 1898; Ethiopia Saluting the Colours (Whitman), 1898, also with orch

Folksong arrs.: Irish Folk Songs (A.P. Graves) (1897); Irish County Songs, vols. i–iii (A.P. Graves and P.J. McCall) (1914–28); Anglo-Irish Folk-Songs, vol. i (1931), collab. P. Gregory; many folksong arrs. for mixed voices

Many part-songs, madrigals, unison songs


Ion (incid music, Euripides), 1890; Iphigenia in Tauris (incid music, Euripides), 1894; A Scene from Pickwick (chbr op), 1921; The Family Party (chbr op), 1923


Orch: Pf Conc., F, 1885–6; Much Ado about Nothing, ov., 1889; Iphigenia in Tauris, suite, ?1894; Patrick Sarsfield: Sym. Variations on an Irish Air, 1899

Str qts: d, 1885; E ‘The Highgate’, 1892–3; a, 1911–12; E ‘The Harrogate’, 1912; F, 1914–15; D, ?1915–16; Variations on an Irish Folk Song, str qt, ?1917; numerous individual qt movts

Other chbr: Sonata, G, vn, pf, 1886; Sonata, A, vn, pf, n.d.; Septet, c, cl, bn, hn, str, 1889; Quintet, F, fl, ob, cl, hn, bn, 1891

Various movts for pf trio, vn and pf, vc and pf

Works for pf, org

MSS in GB-Cgc, Cu, Lbl, L-wcm

Principal publishers: Chappell, Novello, Stainer & Bell, Breitkopf und Häřtel, Boosey


DNB (S.P. Waddington)

‘Charles Wood’, MT, lxvii (1926), 696–7

Obituary, MT, lxvii (1926), 749 only

E.J. Dent: Introduction to C. Wood: Eight String Quartets (London, 1929)

T.F. Dunhill: ‘Wood’, Cobbett's Cyclopaedic Survey of Chamber Music (London, 1929)

M.H. Nosek: ‘Wood: a Personal Memoir’, MT, cvii (1966), 492–3

I. Copley: The Music of Charles Wood: a Critical Study (London, 1978)

N. Temperley, ed.: The Blackwell History of Music in Britain: the Romantic Age 1800–1914 (London, 1981), 201, 208, 253, 448

J.C. Dibble: C. Hubert H. Parry: his Life and Music (Oxford, 1992), 374, 377, 214, 246, 500


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