Wood, Sir Henry J(oseph)

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Wood, Sir Henry J(oseph)

Wood, Sir Henry J(oseph), eminent English conductor; b. London, March 3, 1869; d. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Aug. 19, 1944. Of musical parentage, he was taught to play the piano by his mother; he participated in family musicales from the age of 6; he was equally precocious on the organ. At the age of 10 he often acted as a deputy organist, and gave organ recitals at the Fisheries Exhibition (1883) and at the Inventions Exhibition (1885). In 1886 he entered the Royal Academy of Music in London, where his teachers were Prout, Steg-gall, Macfarren, and Garcia; he won 4 medals. In 1888 he brought out some of his songs, then composed light operas and cantatas. However, soon his ambition crystallized in the direction of conducting; after making his debut in 1888, he was active with various theater companies. On Aug. 10,1895, he began his first series of Promenade Concerts (the famous “Proms”) in Queen’s Hall, London, with an orch. of about 80 members. Their success was so conspicuous that a new series of concerts was inaugurated on Jan. 30, 1897, under Wood’s direction, and flourished from the beginning. In 1899 he founded the Nottingham Orch.; he also was conductor of the Wolverhampton Festival Choral Soc. (1900), the Sheffield Festival (1902-11), and the Norwich Festival (1908). In 1904 he was a guest conductor of the N.Y. Phil. He was married to Olga Urusova, a Russian noblewoman, and became greatly interested in Russian music, which he performed frequently at his concerts. He adopted a Russian pseudonym, Paul Klenovsky, for his compositions and arrangements, and supplied an imaginary biography of his alter ego for use in program notes. His wife died in 1909, and Wood married Muriel Greatorex in 1911. In 1921 he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1944. In 1918 he was offered the conductor-ship of the Boston Sym. Orch. as successor to Muck, but declined. In 1923 he was appointed prof, of conducting and orch. playing at the Royal Academy of Music. Wood continued to conduct the Promenade Concerts almost to the end of his life, presenting the last concert on July 28, 1944. Among his popular arrangements were Chopin’s Marche Funèbre, some works by Bach, and the Trumpet Voluntary (mistakenly attributed to Purcell, but actually by Jeremiah Clarke). He publ. The Gentle Art of Singing (4 vols.; 1927-28) and About Conducting (London, 1945), and ed. the Handbook of Miniature Orchestral and Chamber Music Scores (1937). He wrote an autobiography, My Life and Music (London, 1938). A commemorative postage stamp with his portrait was issued by the Post Office of Great Britain on Sept. 1, 1980.


R. Newmarch, H.J. W.(London, 1904); T. Russell et al., eds., Homage to Sir H. W.: A World Symposium (London, 1944); W. Thompson et al., Sir H. W.: Fifty Years of the Proms (London, 1944); J. Wood, The Last Years of H.J. W.(London, 1954); R. Pound, Sir H. W.: A Biography (London, 1969); A. Orga, The Proms (London, 1974); D. Cox, The H. W. Proms (London, 1980); A. Jacobs, H.J. W.: Maker of the Proms (London, 1994).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire