Classical Music on the Web

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



To continue my series about vintage British Light Music composers, it is now time to look at the very prolific Haydn Wood, who was born into a musical family in Slaithwaite, Yorkshire in 1882. When he was two, however, the family moved to the Isle of Man, which in later life was to be the inspiration for several of Wood's compositions: The Manx Rhapsody (Mylecharane), Manx Country Dance, the Manx Countryside Sketches suite and the Manx Overture, all for orchestra, the Manx "tone poem" Mannin Veen (1938), which exists in versions for orchestra (I have heard this on Radio 3 and subsequently on CD and liked it) and chorus and orchestra, a collection of Manx folksongs set for solo voice and piano and a set of 21 Manx airs published for piano solo.

Haydn studied the violin, latterly at the RCM with Arbós and then in Brussels, whilst at the RCM he had composition lessons with Stanford, to whom much later he was to pay tribute with his "Stanford Rhapsody" Westward Ho. He won a Cobbett Prize with his Phantasie in F major for string quartet, a substantial movement some 23 minutes long and mentioned in Cobbett's Dictionary as being charming and slightly influenced by Dvorák. Cobbett regretted that Wood was lost to the world of chamber music because of his indulgence in more "ephemeral" music, presumably a reference to the 200 or more songs, mainly of the ballad type, which he began composing when he married the soprano Dorothy Court in 1909 and continued to publish for the rest of his life. Roses of Picardy, still popular after eighty years, is merely the best known of them. Nearly as popular is A Brown Bird Singing and other popular titles were Bird of Love Divine, Love's Garden of Roses, Dear Hands That Gave Me Violets, O Flower Divine, The Island of Love (the last four were all recorded in 1914-18), Elizabeth of England, Casey the Fiddler, When Dawn Breaks Through, A Bird Sang in the Rain, A Leafland Lullaby, Daffodil Gold, I Want Your Heart and Homeward at Eventide. Last to be published appears to have been Give Me Your Hand in 1957. Some of them like Beware, were written as duets and some of the more popular solo songs were arranged in this form. God Made Me Kind and When The Home Bells Ring Again appeared also in versions for solo and orchestra, while The Little Ships composed in 1940 as a celebration of the deliverance of Dunkirk, had a male voice chorus ad lib to support the baritone soloist. Many songs had the accompaniments scored for orchestra - the BBC list at least 21 of them, many in several different keys and a few of the best loved like Roses of Picardy and A Brown Bird Singing exist in purely orchestral transcriptions and even as brass band solos. (As was the case with Wilfrid Sanderson and other ballad composers, a medley of Haydn Wood songs was devised for orchestra or band). His song output included a few "cycles": the Three Sea Songs, the Songs of June (also three in number), Twelve Little Songs of the Year and Play Time: A Cycle of (7) Nursery Rhymes. (So did Eric Coates' list of songs even to the extent of also producing a group of nursery rhymes. Coates total at about 160, is not far short of Wood's).

Roses of Picardy, Wood's most enduring and surely for him most financially profitable composition, appeared in 1916. In 1915 he had collaborated with Paul Rubens in a musical comedy entitled Tina; two years later he composed another musical, Cash on Delivery and this was to be followed by others, Clovertown and, jointly with Waller and Tunbridge, Dear Love. These enjoyed a modest success. For the concert hall he produced a handful of short choral works like the cantata Lochinvar and the Ode to Genius. Some of his solo songs, like Roses of Picardy and With a Smile and a Song, he arranged for chorus. Most of his instrumental pieces, whether for piano solo (e.g. a Prelude, published also for organ, Scherzo Fantastique and Silver Clouds) or for his own instrument, the violin (e.g. Slumber Song and Elfin Dance; Melodie Plaintive) were both better known in their orchestral guise.

For it is for his orchestral music that Wood was perhaps most respected. This embraces everything from fanfares to concertos, which were for piano in D Minor (published in 1947 in a version for two pianos) and for violin in B Minor (likewise published in 1932, with piano accompaniment). Although both were favourably noticed at the time (Antonio Brosa gave the premiere of the Violin Concerto in March 1933 with the BBCSO) these are not heard today. Neither are the Philharmonic Variations for cello and orchestra, but his orchestral rhapsodies like The Seafarer, based on popular shanties (1942), King Orry, American Rhapsody (1948), British Rhapsody and the Southern Rhapsody, Virginia (1927), the overtures Eros, Apollo, Life and Love, A May Day and Minerva and the marches Elizabeth of England (1952: at least once recorded on LP), March of the Patriots, Torch of Freedom, Homage March and the Festival March commissioned by the BBC for their first Light Music Festival in 1949, an event I recall following with much pleasure, were all popular in their day. (Talking of the BBC, an astonishing number of Wood's compositions received their premieres at the hands of the BBCSO: the Suite: Moods, Scherzo in the Olden Style (1932), Mannin Veen (1933), the Violin Concerto (1933), the suite A Day in Fairyland (1933), Market Day (1934), the Overture Apollo (1935), the suite Frescoes (1936), Manx Overture (1936), King Orry (1938), the suite Cities of Romance (1937), the overture Love and Life (1938), the suite East of Suez (1939), the Variations for cello (1939), the Minerva Overture (1941) and the Phantasy for Strings (1945).

Bands as well as orchestras took up the marches. Like most of his contemporaries in the light music field, Wood could write good pastiche and in this direction one can point to his 18th century scherzo of 1948 and possibly the Fantasy Concerto for strings. Besides the two concertos we mentioned there were one or two lighter short items for solo instrument and orchestra like It's Only a Tiny Garden (for violin) and Fleurette (for cornet or euphonium). Wood was drawn a number of times to variation form; his early Variations on an Original Theme appeared in 1903, only four years after Elgar's Enigma and possibly inspired by it; I recall hearing at the Sheffield Philharmonic concerts in 1953 the splendidly inventive and amusing Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song - seven of them plus a finale - the song being If You Want To Know The Time Ask a Policeman. He produced dozens of single movement genre pieces: the jaunty Sketch of a Dandy, Serenade to Youth (1955), Serenade at Sunset (1940), An Autumn Song, Harlequinade, Romany Life, Pleading, Serenade, Love in Arcady, Evening Song, An April Shower at Kew (1935), Dance of Youth (1927), Day Dreams, Souvenir de Valentino, the entr'actes Heather Bells and Thistledown and many more.

In the field of the descriptive suite, which in light music terms we tend to associate more particularly with Eric Coates, Wood contributed almost a score of scores, more than Coates in fact, the earliest being entitled simply Suite for Light Orchestra (1929). Some of his subjects parallel Coates: London Cameos (1947: The City, St James' Park, Buckingham Palace), the earlier London Landmarks (1946: Nelson's Column, Tower Hill, Horse Guards) and Snapshots of London (Sadlers Wells, Regent's Park, Wellington Barracks), though none of Wood's final marches rivalled those in Coates' London or London Again Suites; or Harvest Time (cf Coates' From the Countryside or From Meadow to Mayfair), or Royal Castles (Balmoral, Caernarvon, Windsor - cf Coates' Three Elizabeths); or the ballet suite A Day in Fairyland from 1934 which included the popular Dance of a Whimsical Elf (cf Coates' The Enchanted Garden and The Jester at the Wedding). Wood however also sought more exotic subjects for his suites: East of Suez (1939), Egypt, Cities of Romance (1927: Budapest, Venice, Seville) and Paris (1935), the Montmartre March from which became popular as a separate item. Four of the more popular suites were Firelight Fancies (1949), Frescoes (1936), In an Old Cathedral Town (1934) and Moods (1932), the latter (exceptionally) in six movements - the sixth Joyousness, a waltz, has been recorded in the LP and CD eras. Two suite subjects I find particularly intriguing are Three Famous Cinema Stars (Valse Apache, Ivor Novello (!); Romance, Dolores Del Rio; Humoreske, Charles Chaplin) and Three Famous Pictures, which prefaces the very famous Laughing Cavalier with two movements representing pictures by Luke Fildes The Village Wedding and The Doctor, which to us hardly justify the description "famous".

The best of Haydn Wood's orchestral music rivals most of Coates in inventive tunefulness and his scoring, like that of his colleagues of that generation, is highly professional; Havergal Brian wrote in 1937 of an arrangement by him for orchestra of four Elgar Songs that the orchestration had "the true Elgarian touch". Wood's orchestration is usually "normal" (i.e. double woodwind, the "usual" (two or four horns, two or three trumpets and three trombones) brass, strings and modest percussion. The Manx Overture, the British Empire Fantasia and a few shorter pieces have parts for two or three saxophones; Sketch for a Dandy has a written out part for an accordion.

Wood died in 1959, two years after Coates, having given pleasure to millions. He is still capable of doing that - if we let him. The recent Marco Polo CD has made a start in that direction.

© Philip L Scowcroft.

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount



Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.

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