Thursday, 23 October 2014

Sir Henry Wood: A Tribute from Harriet Cohen

A year ago I published a short tribute from Sir Arnold Bax to Sir Henry Wood on the occasion of that great conductor’s 75th birthday in Homage to Sir Henry Wood. A number of eminent musicians contributed to this volume including Ernest Ansermet, Leopold Stokowski, Alan Bush, RVW and Yehudi Menhuin. Bax’s mistress, the beautiful Harriet Cohen also made a short homage which is quite revealing- especially her ‘name-dropping’ of Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius. However, it is a heartfelt tribute from one of the best loved pianist of her generation.
For many musicians in this country the Jubilee in the Spring of 1944 of Sir Henry Wood, our most beloved English conductor, is an exciting and happy occasion. Considering the enormous amount of work entailed in a conductor’s life – performing, rehearsing, studying, travelling, etc. – it must be unique to come through fifty years, vigorous and buoyant, as Sir Henry has done; he seems to me younger than ever. Two aspects of Sir Henry immediately come to mind: one is his never-diminishing youthfulness and freshness, the other is the sum of these qualities which have made him so remarkable a pioneer of the best modern music of the whole world.
Sir Henry has a marvellous way of putting young artists at ease: he interests himself in their career and is young with them. That was part of his genius to recognize the line in which some of the young artists would eventually excel. Richard Strauss told me once that he thought the whole world benefited by Sir Henry’s introduction of notable modern music into the English concerts. It was really thrilling to hear such praise. When I was in Helsinki, Sibelius [1] talked for hours about Sir Henry and his amazing achievements.
One could never exhaust the stories about Sir Henry’s astounding capacity for work; his catholic range and understanding, his loyalty and utter devotion to his Art; it has been a great happiness to most English musicians to see their artistic blossoming under the genius of Sir Henry’s direction.
Harriet Cohen. Homage to Sir Henry Wood, p.20 (LPO Booklets, Welwyn Garden City,1944)

[1] Harriet Cohen was introduced to Jean Sibelius in London during the composer’s visit in 1921. Fifteen years later, Cohen journeyed to Finland with Arnold Bax. During this time she had long chats with Sibelius in Helsinki and the composer’s home in Ainola. It is a conversation that deserves investigation. Wikipedia reports that Sibelius even wrote here the opening chord of his Eighth Symphony which was never published. 

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