Sunday, 12 December 2010

Haydn Wood: March-The Horse Guards: Whitehall

I am delighted to see that Classic FM seems to have picked up on the Yorkshire-born composer Haydn Wood (1882-1959). Twice during the last four weeks they have played the classic march from the London Landmarks Suite. People of a certain age will know this ‘march’ as the signature tune to the long-running BBC radio programme, Down your Way, which ran between 1946 and 1992.
Ernest Tomlinson, in his programme notes to the Marco Polo recording of this work, has set the scene – ‘Whitehall, in the city of Westminster, runs amid a host of government buildings from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. As we pass the Cenotaph and proceed towards the Admiralty we see two resplendent Guardsmen on their immobile horses standing sentry outside the arch which leads through to the Horse Guards Parade, the scene of the annual Trooping of the Colour...’
Originally The Horse Guards: Whitehall was the last of a three-movement suite called London Landmarks. The first is a musical portrayal of Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square with its nautical nods to the great admiral on his plinth. The second was a much more sober consideration of Tower Hill with its echoes of the whole panoply of British history. Much of this movement is cast as a funeral march and certainly causes the listener to reflect on the numerous executions and more recently the dedication of the War Memorial to the Merchant Seamen from the First and Second World Wars. This music is far deeper and more profound than much ‘light music’ and could be used to good effect at a Remembrance Parade. It is with some relief when the last movement begins.
The march will remind the listener more of Eric Coates than Edward Elgar or William Walton. For this is not really a military march as such, but a flamboyant, highly spirited evocation of the atmosphere surrounding ceremonial events in Whitehall. This is pure concert music. Ernest Tomlinson reminds the reader that when this march (and suite) was composed, in 1946, the sombre war-time khaki of the guards had once again returned to the traditional scarlet tunics and high plumed hats so well known to this day.

Finally, for the curious, the story goes that the composer received his illustrious name because his father had just attended a performance of Haydn’s Creation at the time of his son’s birth!
A good performance of this work can be heard on YouTube. There are at least five good recordings of this work currently available on CD.

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