(bSlaithwaite, Yorks., 25 March 1882; d London, 11 March 1959). English composer. Wood was brought up in the Isle of Man, which later inspired several compositions. He studied violin and composition at the RCM, subsequently composing a Phantasie for string quartet (which won a Cobbett Prize), concertos for piano and violin and short choral pieces. His reputation, however, was made through lighter musical forms: his musical comedies, especially Tina, achieved modest success, and his songs, of which he composed over 200 in ballad style, included the popular Roses of Picardy and A Brown Bird Singing.
With his professional strength lying in melody and scoring, he is best remembered for his lighter orchestral music. The Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song are resourceful and inventive, as were the orchestral rhapsodies, which included The Seafarer, based on sea shanties. He also composed lively overtures (Eros, Apollo and Minerva), and stirring marches such as Elizabeth of England, Montmartre and Torch of Freedom. He challenged Coates in the light orchestral suite, producing more examples than him and taking his inspiration from similar subjects, notably London. He also composed Three Famous Pictures and, after Ivor Novello, Dolores del Rio and Charlie Chaplin, Three Famous Cinema Stars. His work is discussed in P.L. Scowcroft: British Light Music: a Personal Gallery of Twentieth-Century Composers (London, 1997).
all dates those of first London performance
Tina (musical play, 3, H. Graham, P. Greenbank and P. Rubens), Adelphi, 2 Nov 1915 [musical collab. Rubens]
Cash on Delivery (musical farce, 3, D. Burnaby, J. Heard, S. Hicks and H.E. Wright), Palace, 13 Oct 1917
Dear Love (musical comedy, 2, H. Clayton, D. Titheridge and L. Wylie), Palace, 14 Nov 1929 [musical collab. J.A. Tunbridge and J. Waller]
Concs.: Vn Conc., b, 1932; Pf Conc., d, 1947
Orch ovs.: Apollo, 1935; A Manx Ov., 1936; Love and Life, 1938; Minerva, 1944; Eros; Mayday
Orch suites: Cities of Romance, 1927; Moods, 1932; In an Old Cathedral Town, 1934; Paris (incl. Montmartre), 1935; East of Suez, 1939; London Landmarks, 1946; London Cameos, 1947; Firelight Fancies, 1949; many others, incl. Three Famous Film Stars; Three Famous Pictures
Other orch works: Variations on an Original Theme, 1903; Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song (1927); A Manx Rhapsody (1931); Mannin Veen [Dear Isle of Man], Manx tone poem, 1932–3; Philharmonic Variations, vc, orch 1939; The Seafarer, a nautical rhapsody, on halliard, capstan and hauling shanties (1940); Mylecharane, rhapsody (1946)
Many genre movts, incl. Sketch of a Dandy, 1952; Serenade to Youth, 1955; Dance of a Whimsical Elf
Chbr: Phantasie, str qt (1906); many solo pieces for vn, pf and org
Choral: Lochinvar (scene from W. Scott: Marmion), chorus, orch, 1911; Ode to Genius (M. Dewar), chorus, orch, 1945
c200 songs, incl. Bird of Love Divine (K. Birch), 1912; Love's Garden of Roses (R. Rutherford), 1914; Roses of Picardy (F.E. Weatherly), 1916; When You are Lonely (E. Lockton), 1917; A Brown Bird Singing (R. Barrie), 1922
PHILIP L. SCOWCROFT
Wood, Sir Henry J(oseph)
(b London, 3 March 1869; d Hitchin, 19 Aug 1944). English conductor. His father, an optician and engineering model-maker, was a keen amateur cellist who also sang in the choir of St Sepulchre’s, Holborn, in London. Wood’s early aptitude for music was mainly nurtured from home, though he also took organ and piano lessons from E.M. Lott, the organist of St Sepulchre’s, and from the age of 14 won public notice as an organ recitalist. At the RAM (1886–8) he studied composition with Prout, organ with Charles Steggall and piano with Walter Macfarren, and he also developed skill as a piano accompanist for singers, playing for Manuel Garcia’s lessons. Ambitious as a composer, he had several songs and other short pieces published while he was still at the Academy; three operettas were later produced, though without success.
In 1889 Wood was engaged as musical director of Arthur Rousbey’s touring opera company, subsequently moving to a similar post with the Carl Rosa Opera and also assisting Sullivan in the preparation of Ivanhoe (1891). As assistant conductor in Lago’s opera season at the Olympic Theatre he conducted Yevgeny Onegin (17 October 1892), the first London production of any Tchaikovsky opera. That occasion pointed to his future role as the first British-born career conductor. He undertook only one further operatic engagement, taking over the London run of Stanford’s Shamus O'Brien (1896) after the composer had conducted the opening performance.
Wood’s future was to be linked with that of the recently opened (1893) Queen’s Hall. At the age of 26 he was engaged by its manager, Robert Newman, as conductor of the hall’s first series of promenade concerts, which opened on 10 August 1895. Initially, as in London's earlier promenade concerts, programmes drew mainly on lighter music, including ballads, with a cautious infusion of classics. However, Wood’s command over both players and audiences permitted an increase in the symphonic component; this gave the new series its distinction as an annual summer event (with occasional extensions to other times of year). By 1896 the dedication of Monday nights chiefly to Beethoven, Friday nights to Wagner, was in place. With rigorous rehearsal timing and copious precautionary marking of orchestral parts, Wood conquered the restriction of only three rehearsals per week for six nightly concerts. In January 1897 he took over the hall’s prestigious Saturday afternoon symphony concerts. Wagner and Tchaikovsky were recognized as among his chief strengths; Queen Victoria chose selections from both when he and the Queen’s Hall Orchestra performed at Windsor Castle on 24 November 1898. In Newman’s London Music Festival of 1899, Wood and his orchestra were successfully matched against the Lamoureux Orchestra from Paris (Charles Lamoureux, its conductor, was Wood’s senior by 35 years).
Wood, who had modelled his technique and even his bearded appearance on Arthur Nikisch, won equal success as a conductor of major choral festivals, including those of Birmingham, Norwich and, from 1902, particularly Sheffield, where his later radical reinterpretations of such works as Handel’s Messiah would arouse both admiration and fury. In reporting the 1902 festival for the Berlin Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung, Otto Lessmann bracketed Elgar and Wood as representing ‘a new epoch in English musical life’. When Wood appeared as one of the New York PO’s guest conductors in 1904, his ‘sweeping, incisive and picturesque’ gestures impressed the American Musical Courier. Seven years later he declined that orchestra’s permanent conductorship.
In 1898 Wood married a Russian-born divorcee, Olga Hillman, née Mikhailov. A gifted soprano, she performed as ‘Mrs Henry J. Wood’; Wood’s earliest recordings were made in 1908–9 as her piano accompanist. It was the happiest of marriages, cut short by her early death in 1909. A warm supporter of Wood from this time was Britain’s leading Russian music scholar Rosa Newmarch, who became his first biographer in 1904. Wood's affinity for Russian composers was in constant evidence: works he introduced to Britain ranged from the Nutcracker suite and Scheherazade in 1896 to Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in 1942 and Eighth in 1944.
After Newman’s bankruptcy in 1902 the Queen’s Hall Orchestra was supported by Sir Edgar Speyer, a banker of German origin. Wood proved his skills as a conductor of Debussy, Strauss and Sibelius, and as trainer of the orchestra which served those composers when they appeared as guest conductors. He was likewise the pioneer of Mahler in Britain, giving the First Symphony in 1903 and the Fourth in 1905. The occasional incomprehension or hostility shown by audiences and players he took in his stride, as when he gave the world première of Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces in 1912 and the first British performance of Skryabin’s Prometheus the following year. (‘Stick to it, gentlemen’, he urged the orchestra at a rehearsal of the Schoenberg. ‘This is nothing to what you’ll have to play in 25 years’ time.’) In 1904 Wood strengthened his command, ending the custom that permitted a player to send a substitute if a more attractive engagement were offered. In 1913 he became the first to admit women to the general ranks of a major British orchestra. During this period, while continuing to bring new works to the Sheffield Festival, including Delius’s Sea Drift (dedicated to him) in 1908, he also began to conduct for G.W. Brand Lane’s concerts in Manchester. He was knighted in January 1911, and in June of that year married his second wife Muriel Ellen Greatrex.
At the beginning of World War I, Wood successfully resisted pressure to ban German music, but Speyer was driven out of Britain by anti-German feeling. The music publishing firm of Chappell took over the promenade concerts and others under Wood’s baton, and the orchestra was renamed the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra. From 1915 Wood began to make orchestral recordings. In 1917 he declined the permanent conductorship of the Boston SO, though he was to be a guest conductor in 1934 and would also appear in three summer seasons at the Hollywood Bowl (1925, 1926, 1934). In 1923 he accepted the conductorship of the RAM’s first orchestra, giving priority in his diary to its twice-weekly rehearsals; he retained this post for almost 20 years. In 1927, for financial reasons, Chappell abandoned not only the promenade concerts but also the year-round symphony concerts at Queen’s Hall, leaving Wood without an orchestra of his own at a time when his reputation was already being overshadowed by that of Beecham. Charges of heavy-handedness and routine were increasingly made, and his treatment of Bach and Handel, whose orchestration he habitually reinforced, was becoming unfashionable. The BBC took over the Proms (as they were now generally called) with Wood as conductor, but he began to depend perilously on what share of concerts he could achieve as one of many guest conductors in the year-round season of the BBC SO.
The BBC chose Wood for important collaborations with Bartók (1936, as pianist-composer) and Hindemith, and for the first performance in Britain (1930) of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, also allotting him the annual Good Friday concerts usually devoted either to selections from Parsifal or to The Dream of Gerontius. But a time of depressed status and income coincided with a private crisis. In 1935 Wood left his wife and formed a permanent liaison with the widowed Jessie Linton, who as Jessie Goldsack had been a very young mezzo-soprano soloist in the promenade concerts of 1900–02. She changed her name by deed poll to ‘Lady [as a forename] Jessie Wood’, and was responsible for reinvigorating the conductor’s last years.
The year 1938 was somewhat arbitrarily named as his fiftieth in the role of conductor. Widespread salutations culminated in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 5 October for which Vaughan Williams wrote (and dedicated to Wood) his Serenade to Music. When the BBC declined in World War II to organize the promenade concert seasons of 1940 and 1941, Wood kept them going by collaborating with a private entrepreneur, Keith Douglas. Queen’s Hall, however, was destroyed by German bombing on 10 May 1941 and the concerts of that year were moved to the Royal Albert Hall, where they remained after the BBC resumed them in 1942. Though now past his seventieth birthday, Wood travelled widely amid the blackout to conduct the LSO, the Hallé and other orchestras.
From 1943 Wood’s physical powers diminished perceptibly. In that summer's promenade season he was compelled not only to share the conducting of certain concerts but to withdraw entirely from others. Nevertheless in 1944 his 75th birthday was marked with due pomp: a concert attended by the Queen was given in his honour on 25 March at the Albert Hall; the four London orchestras taking part were conducted by Wood, Adrian Boult and Basil Cameron. The 1944 promenade season, Wood’s fiftieth, was curtailed by renewed German bombing. Instead, the BBC Symphony Orchestra (under Wood, Cameron or Boult) performed from its wartime base at Bedford only those items that were to be broadcast. The Bedford performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no.7 on 28 July 1944 was the conductor’s last: his three-week terminal illness began that night.
Wood wrote an autobiography, My Life of Music (1938), that is vivacious in style but factually misleading; his earlier four-volume treatise The Gentle Art of Singing (1927–8), however, embodies his considerable experience as a vocal teacher. Among his many orchestral arrangements are, most notably, a version of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1915, preceding Ravel’s) and a mammoth version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor bwv565, which he ascribed to a fictitious ‘Paul Klenovsky’ in 1929. Wood’s brilliant full-orchestral transcription of Grainger’s Handel in the Strand is often taken to be the composer’s own. His Fantasia on British Sea Songs, created for a Trafalgar Day centenary concert in 1905, has survived as a festive contribution to the Last Night of later Prom seasons. He remained through life a passionate amateur painter in oils: several of his paintings survive at the RAM along with his library of scores and other memorabilia. Created a Companion of Honour in 1944, he was also a member of the order of the Crown of Belgium (1920) and an officer of the French Légion d’Honneur (1926). He received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s gold medal in 1921, was awarded honorary doctorates by several British universities, and became an honorary freeman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians in 1938.
Wood’s artistic energy, variety of taste, and avidity for new music endowed the Proms (now called by his name) with their continuing creative and educational force. His orchestral players affectionately nicknamed him Timber – more than a play on his name, since it seemed to represent his reliability too. His tally of first performances, or first performances in Britain, was heroic: at least 717 works by 357 composers. Greatness as measured by finesse of execution may not be his, particularly in his limited legacy of recordings, but he remains one of the most remarkable musicians Britain has produced.
much unpublished material also in GB-Lam
‘Why I became a Conductor’, The Musical Leader and Concert Goer (26 May 1904)
‘Orchestral Colour and Values’, A Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians, ed. A. Eaglefield-Hull, (London, 1924)
The Gentle Art of Singing (London, 1927–8, abridged 2/1930)
My Life of Music (London, 1938/R)
About Conducting (London, 1945/R)
Introductions to H.M. Walbrook: Gilbert and Sullivan Opera (London, 1922); H.C. Hind: The Orchestra and its Instruments (London, 1930); B. Maine: Reflected Music and other Essays (London, 1930); A. Jacob: Musical Handwriting (London, 1934/R); J.D. Chamier: Percy Pitt of Covent Garden and the BBC (London, 1938)