Haydn Wood

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It seems astonishing that a composer whose output boasted a substantial body of orchestral works including 15 suites, 9 rhapsodies, 8 overtures, 3 big concertante pieces and nearly 50 other assorted items; six choral compositions, some chamber music - notably a string quartet and over a dozen instrumental solos - 7 song cycles and something in excess of 200 individual songs, should today be remembered more or less by just three of those vocal items (Roses of Picardy, A Brown Bird Singing and Love's Garden of Roses) and a single movement of his London Landmarks Suite - Horse Guards, Whitehall. It's not as if his musical credentials were in any serious doubt. Quite simply, Haydn Wood, along with others of similar stylistic ilk, fell victim to changes in fashion and especially the sharp reaction against music which preferred to concentrate on appeals to the heart rather than the head, as it were.


Haydn Wood was born into a musical family in the Yorkshire town of Slaithwaite on March 25, 1882. Although his first name was pronounced Hayden rather than in the manner of the great Franz Joseph, it was, nonetheless, Austria's famous musical son who dictated the nomenclature. Just days before his wife was due to produce her off-spring, the future composer's father took himself off to hear a performance of - appropriately enough - The Creation and duly vowed that if the new arrival were to be a boy, he would christen it Haydn. The gender requirement being fulfilled, the promised name was accordingly bestowed!

The young Wood was only two when the family moved to the Isle of Man and it was here that he spent his childhood years. His innate musical talents were encouraged by other members of the household and it was from an elder brother that he began taking lessons on the violin. It was soon obvious that his skills as a performer lay far beyond the ordinary and within a remarkably short space of time, he had earned a local reputation as a child prodigy. Before his teens he was giving recitals and, in his later years, he used to enjoy telling how he received what he then regarded as the ultimate accolade - being invited by the Douglas municipal authorities to play for holiday-makers for two weeks in succession. At that time apparently, no one was ever engaged for more than one week. Mind you, not all members of the audience were overjoyed at this exception to the rule and the young violinist's mother was mortified to overhear the comment "Heavens! This terrible kid again!"

Wood's exceptional abilities were eventually given wider recognition with the awarding to him at the age of fifteen of an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he was able to benefit from the tuition of Enrique Fernandez Arbos for violin, and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford for composition. Through the latter's good offices, he was introduced to no less a person than Joseph Joachim, who was visiting London. The great Hungarian-born virtuoso was highly impressed with the young man's playing and, on his return to the capital three years later, went to the College with the express intention of hearing Wood once again. Another distinguished violinist/composer who granted him a private audience was Pablo Sarasate who also expressed admiration and delight at what he heard. Both men were present at the special concert commemorating the opening of the Royal College of Music's Concert Hall on June 13, 1901 when Wood was the solo violinist and they lent their wholehearted support to the decision to send him to Brussels for special training under the world-renowned teacher, Cesar Thomson.

On completion of his studies with the Belgian maestro, Haydn Wood embarked on a world tour as solo violinist with the soprano, Mme. Emma Albani, the most popular oratorio singer of her day. His association with the celebrated Canadian artiste was to last for some eight years, but during this time, composition began to play an increasingly important role and. Amongst a number of major works that appeared in these early years were a substantial Piano Concerto and a Phantasy String Quartet, the latter coming second in the first Cobbett Prize competition in 1905. He might well have continued writing in such 'serious' vein were it not for his meeting with and, in 1909, duly marrying the soprano Dorothy Court. It was for her that he started writing lyrical, sentimental ballads that were eventually to overshadow every other area of his creative output. He often appeared on the musical stage with her and shared in the enthusiastic applause which invariably greeted his songs. Although requiring little compositional effort - the refrain of Love's Garden of Roses, for example, came to Wood one evening in 1914 while he was travelling on top of a London bus in the Finchley Road; he quickly alighted and, by the murky light of a street gas-lamp, quickly scribbled the tune down on the back of an envelope - these vocal miniatures brought him considerable wealth: Roses of Picardy alone earning him an estimated £100,000.

He didn't give up writing on a larger scale altogether, however. The encouragement of the BBC elicited works such as the Violin Concerto and the Philharmonic Variations for cello and orchestra, whilst miscellaneous Suites appeared from time to time. In 1917, he tried his hand at a musical with Cash on Delivery and then, twelve years later, contributed to the show Dear Love, which was staged at London's Palace Theatre with Claude Hulbert, Sydney Howard, Dino Galvani, Robert Nainby and Vera Pearce in the leading roles.

Occasionally, Wood would take to the conductor's rostrum, usually to direct his own pieces - he was, in fact, given his own programme by the BBC on the occasion of his 70th birthday - and, from 1939, he served as a Director of the Performing Rights Society. His final years were spent relatively quietly and he eventually died in a London nursing-home on March 11, 1959, two weeks before his 77th birthday.

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