Monday, 11 May 2015

Sir Henry Wood: A Tribute from E.J. Moeran

In 1954 the London Philharmonic Orchestra published a short booklet to commemorate the 75th birthday of Sir Henry Wood. It featured contributions form eminent musicians and composers of the day including Ernest Ansermet, Leopold Stokowski, Alan Bush, R.V.W. and Yehudi Menhuin. The composer E.J. Moeran’s (1894-1950) tribute is worth noting for his heartfelt, if somewhat prosaic tone. It would be of considerable interest to explore the programming of Sir Henry’s Saturday Concerts.

The Saturday Afternoons
Sir Henry Wood [1] has been the leading figure in London musical life for so long as to have become an institution, so much so that the imagination hesitates at the thought of orchestral music continuing to function otherwise than around him as its central pivot. For many years it has been due to his erudition and liveliness of perception that Londoners have been able to keep abreast of current musical thought. It is surely a unique record that the man who conducted the first performances in England of such old chestnuts as Casse-Noissete and Scheherazade (the latter in the same programme with another new work, Sir George Elvey’s Gavotte à la mode ancienne) [3] during the Prom season of 1896, still should be producing novelties at these same Proms in the 1944’s
The widespread popularity and the fame of the Proms has tended to obscure what, to the present writer in his student days, used to be the peak events of London orchestral activity, namely Sir Henry Wood’s fortnightly Saturday afternoon symphony concerts [4] with his Queen’s Hall Orchestra. It was at these concerts that one was accustomed to hear as a matter of course the best possible performances, prepared with adequate rehearsal, of big works of the utmost contemporary importance.
As for the composer [5] who has been fortunate enough to have a work produced by Sir Henry Wood, he has always to know full well beforehand that the conductor would spare neither himself nor his orchestra in the care and the artistry to be lavished on the study and performance of it.
There can be no parallel in which the creative renaissance has owed more to the unswerving championship of one executive artist, than that of music in England has to Sir Henry Wood.
E.J. Moeran

[1] The first Prom Concert conducted by Henry Wood was on 10 August 1895.
[2] Moeran’s memory seems to have been a little confused. Sir Henry conducted George Elvey’s Gavotte à la mode ancienne at the prom on 13 October 1898. The first 'prom' performance of Tchaikovsky’s Casse-Noissette (The Nutcracker Suite) was on 1 September 1897. The first Proms performance of Scheherazade would appear to have been on 17 September 1914. Clearly Moeran would not have recalled some of these events as he would have only been four or five years old.
[3] Sir Henry Wood did indeed conduct during the 1944 Proms season. His last Prom was on 28 July of that year when the concerts had been moved to Bedford due to the V1 rocket raids. This final performance was of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony. Wood was take ill that evening and was unable to conduct the fiftieth anniversary Prom on 10 August.  This concert was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Wood died on 19 August 1944 in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
[4] These concerts began in 1897 and took place on Saturday afternoons. They were weekly in the first years of the series, and later became fortnightly. The music was often of ‘contemporary importance’: the 1902-3 season for example included four tone poems by Richard Strauss – Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklärung and Ein Heldenleben
[5] E.J. Moeran was fortunate to have works conducted by Sir Henry Wood, including his Suite: Farrago (6 September 1934) and the Symphony in G minor (11 August 1938

1 comment:

Andrew Smith said...

Thank you for reprinting this. The prose is a little stiff, but more or less what I am used to, being born at the start of the baby boom. Wood is so highly spoken of (and so important) that one wonders why he did not make more recordings: it is a pity there is no recording by him of the Moeran symphony. I wonder if he was not considered reliable enough - his recording of RVW's London Symphony is magnificent, but perhaps a little wayward, and not always secure orchestrally. There is the possibility he just did not like the process.