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Sir Henry J Wood

Sir Henry Wood (1869 - 1944) Henry Wood like his his father became a craftsman and model maker. His father had highly successful model engineering shop in London's Oxford Street. Young Henry also played the organ and became deputy organist of St Mary Aldermanbury at the age of ten. Four years later he played the organ at the 'Musicians' Church' St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, the largest parish church in the City of London, where his ashes now rest. Henry also learned the piano and violin, but it was not until he entered the Royal Academy of Music at the age of sixteen that he received methodical tuition. During his two years at the RAM he took classes in piano, organ, composition and singing. His ambition at the time was to become a teacher of singing something he was to do throughout his life.

On leaving the Royal Academy of Music he found work as a singing teacher and as an orchestral and choral conductor. gaining experience by working for several opera companies. He conducted the Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1891, and the following year the English premiere of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the newly rebuilt Olympic Theatre. He collaborated with Arthur Sullivan on preparation of The Yeomen of the Guard and Ivanhoe. Meanwhile singing tuition proviede a steady income.

In 1893, Robert Newman, manager of the Queen's Hall, proposed holding a series of promenade concerts with Wood as conductor. The term promenade concert normally referred to concerts in London parks where the audience could walk about as they listened. Newman's aim was to educate the musical taste of the public who were not used to listening to serious classical music unless it was presented in small doses with plenty of other popular items in between. Wood shared Newman's ideals. Dr George Cathcart, a wealthy ear, nose and throat specialist, offered to sponsor the project on condition that Wood took charge of every concert. He also insisted that the pitch of the instruments, which in England was nearly a semitone higher than that used on the continent, should be brought down to diapason normal (A=435Hz). On 10 August 1895 the first of the Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts took place. For many years the programming of the promenade concerts followed a particular pattern according to the day of the week, with Monday nights being Wagner nights and Friday being dedicated to Beethoven. Wood also bravely introduced British audiences to many noteworthy European composers, especially Sibelius and composers of the Russian school. In 1912 Wood conducted Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces ("Stick to it, gentlemen" he urged the orchestra at rehearsal, "This is nothing to what you'll have to play in 25 years' time"). Wood remained in sole charge of the Proms (with one or two exceptions) until 1941 when he shared the conducting with Basil Cameron and, in the following season, with Sir Adrian Boult as well. During Wood's time the Proms were a central feature of British musical life and he gained the nickname of "Timber" from the Promenaders. He brought about many innovations. He fought continuously for improved pay for musicians, and introduced women into the orchestra in 1911.

Wood's orchestrations of other composers' works drew frequent criticisms, so when in 1929 he made an orchestral transcription of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, he presented it as a transcription by a Russian composer called Paul Klenovsky. Klenovsky was a real person, a recently deceased young musician friend of Alexander Glazunov's, and Wood thought a foreign name would secure a more favourable reception than his own. It was a great success. Only several years later did he confess to the little joke. The work was nonetheless published in 1934 as "Bach-Klenovsky, Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor, for Orchestra (orchestrated by Sir Henry J. Wood)".

Wood is remembered today in the name of the Henry Wood Hall, the deconsecrated Holy Trinity Church in Southwark, which was converted to a rehearsal and recording venue in 1975. His bust stands upstage centre in the Royal Albert Hall during the whole of each Prom season, and is decorated by a chaplet on the Last Night of the Proms.

Wood conducts British Music

3PD3 Wood conducts British Music

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams
    • Overture to The Wasps
    • A London Symphony (Symphony No 2)
    • Fantasia on Greensleeves
  • Eric Coates
    • London Suite - Westminster - Covent Garden - Kinghtsbridge
    • London Bridge March
  • Edward Elgar
    • Vioiln Concerto - Albert Sammons (violin)
  • Henry Purcell (arr H J Wood)
    • Suite in Five Movements


Wood conducts British Music

2PD3 Wood's Eroica

  • Beethoven Symphony No 3 Eroica [listen]
  • Bach (arr Klenovsky) Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 [listen]
  • Bach Brandeberg Concerto No 6 [listen]
  • Bach (arr Welhelmj) Suite No 3 - Air [listen]
  • Bach (arr Wood) Gavotte in E [listen]

In November 1926 Sir Henry Wood conducting his Queens Hall Orchestra recorded for Columbia an electrifying performance of Beethoven Symphony No 3 Erocia. However the recording , an early electrical recording, suffers from a dead acoustic and resonating hum plus surface defects. Three sets of discs were sourced and engineers at Beulah have been working on the acoustics the hum and the pressing faults that result in surface defects. We think the result demonstrates how powerful a conductor was Sir Henry Wood.

Tulley Potter reveiwing the recorded legacy of Sir Henry Wood in Gramophone July 2009 writes:

For Beethoven, the prize is the 1926 Eroica,a lean, athletic performance almost worthy of Toscanini. The first movement is urgent, the funeral march suitably sombre, the Scherzo thrilling with marvellous old pea-shooter French horns headed by Aubrey Brain, the finale cumulatively exciting. The new Beulah transfer is supurb.

Rob Cowan writes in the Gramophone for February 2009:

Henry Wood's Eroica, from 1926, where vibrato is only sparingly used and tempi run roughly parallel with what the "original instrument " lobby favours nowadays - the Scherzo positively flies by is a remarkable performance, the only tell tale sign of "period", aside from the dusty sound (which was never much good even in its day), is the use of portamento and some abrupt gear changes. Even more remarkable is Wood's favourite Bach Brandenberg Concerto, the sixth, recorded in 1930 with a surprisingly fast first movement, a loving Adagio and a strange ritandando rounding off the concerto. The remainder of this admirable disc is taken up with Wilhelmj's version of the Air on a G string, the Gavotte from the Third Violin Partita and a sparkingling orchestration of the D minor Tocatta and Fuguw BWV565.

John Sheppard writes at Music Web International for January 2009

Sir Henry Wood has a secure place in British musical history as the father of the Promenade Concerts. This has tended to obscure consideration of his characteristics and abilities as a conductor. This is partly due to the paucity of his recordings, but also to the poor technical quality of many of them. The main item here - the "Eroica" - was recorded in the early days of electrical recording using the "Westrex" system. This was despite the view of Isaac Schoenberg, the general manager of Columbia, for whom it was made, that the system was unsatisfactory. Even with all the very considerable skill and patience of the engineers responsible for the present transfer my initial impression each time I listened to it was of a poor recording partly hidden behind considerable hiss. However after a few minutes I found that I could ignore this and concentrate on a performance which is very well worth hearing.

The Symphony's first movement is dispatched for the most part at a fast speed, the direction allegro con brio being taken very much to heart. Whilst there is some welcome flexibility over the main speed there is nothing metronomic about it and overall there is an apparent spontaneity and responsiveness to the changing character of the music. I do however find it hard to accept the very pronounced slowing down for the second subject at bar 83 which seems to go beyond the bounds of what reasonable flexibility might allow. Even then it is not difficult to forgive it for the vitality of music-making which pervades this movement and indeed the rest of the disc. This did in fact come as a surprise. I remember playing under one of his pupils from some of his working sets of parts, now held by the Royal Academy of Music. All are carefully marked up in thick blue pencil with careful supplementary instructions to the players. This was clearly essential in view of the very limited rehearsal times available to him for the long seasons of the Proms. Even so, I had not expected that this would leave any room for the kind of apparently spontaneous music-making that we have here. At the same time there is a clear sense of direction in all of these performances as well as what appears to be great care over balance and phrasing. The few moments where the balance goes astray may well be a result of the recording apparatus available at that time. Given the then cost of records the absence of the important first movement exposition repeat is understandable.

The rest of the symphony has similar virtues to the first movement although Wood does not make any more exaggerated unmarked changes of speed. The scherzo is very fast but the trio is just about managed by the horns - no mean feat given 1920s recording technology. The orchestra's sound is also of its time, with more portamento than would be usual today but not to such a degree in the Symphony as to be a problem to even modern listeners allergic to the practice.

The very interesting notes by Peter Avis indicate that the Sixth Brandenberg Concerto was a favourite of the conductor; so much so that he paid for an extra rehearsal in preparation for this recording, and provided tea and cakes for the players. It may surprise listeners used to performances on instruments closer to what the composer expected, but this is as vigorous and lively a performance as I have come across anywhere. Despite the doubling of instrumental lines and, presumably the substitution of violas or cellos for the specified viols, both of reduce clarity, the sheer rhythmic drive of the performance manages to avoid any hint of the dourness that can sometimes be found in this work, even, or perhaps especially, in the celebrated performance directed by Adolf Busch. The slow movement is a particular pleasure, with the second part of the direction Adagio ma non tanto noted and acted upon for once.

The Toccata and Fugue was included on the Lyrita collection of orchestrations by Sir Henry played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite (SRCD 216). I enjoyed that, but enjoyed this even more. It is delightfully over the top, with every opportunity for bizarre orchestral effects seized upon. The recording here and in the Bach items is markedly superior to that for the Beethoven.

I have played this disc with increasing enjoyment and respect for Wood as a musician. Arthur Jacobs' biography makes it clear that many of the amusing and amazing stories in Wood's autobiography "My Life of Music" were the product of his imagination. It is good to be reminded that this imagination extended also to his performances. I hope that further discs will fill out the picture that this very desirable disc gives.

Robert Matthew Walker writes in International Record Review for March 2009:-

"Beulah have reissued Henry Wood's firey and brilliant account of the Eroica; tempos are generally fast but finely held and very convincing in their own terms. The sound is not at all bad, considering it is an early electrical recording from 1926 ... the original 78rpm surfaces are by no means silent, but the up-front sound and genuine fire of Wood's conducting sweep all before it. The CD is valuable for this Erocia as a demonstration of Wood's genius (not too strong a word)."


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sir henry wood

1PD3 Sir Henry's Themes and Variations
recordings of Sir Henry Wood conducting Delius - Dance Rhapsody, Holbrooke - Three Blind Mice, Symphonic Variations, Glinka - Ruslan And Ludmilla - Overture, Bruckner - Overture In G Minor, Dohnanyi Symphonische Minuten ,Dvorak - Symphonic Variations, Rameau - Fetes d'Hebe - Tambourin, Handel - Rodrigo - Sailors' Dance and Almira - Rigaudon


live at the crystal palace

1PD1 Live at the Crystal Palace

London's Crystal Palace was, until it burnt down in 1936, home to the National Brass Band Festivals, the Handel Festival conducted by Sir Henry Wood, church choir and childrens orchestra festivals. They are all represented here. The atmosphere of a vast glass hall that could accommodate 3000 musicians on the stage and have 60,000 people in the audience has to be heard.
1926-1935 recordings


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