Hugh Wood


British composer Hugh Wood was born at Parbold, Lancashire, in 1932. His mother had been Frank Merrick’s first piano pupil in Manchester: both his father and his elder brother were actively fond of music. He thus had a musical upbringing, but it was only after graduating from Oxford that he decided to pursue composition, moving to London in 1954 to study with William Lloyd Webber, Anthony Milner, Iain Hamilton, and Mátyás Seiber.

Wood taught music at Morley College (1958-67), the Royal Academy of Music (1962-65), the universities of Glasgow (1966-70), Leeds (1975-6), Liverpool (1971-5) and finally Cambridge where he was appointed University Lecturer and became a Fellow and Director of Studies in Music at Churchill College in 1977. He retired from these posts in 1999.

Sometimes violently expressionistic, sometimes poignantly lyrical, Wood’s music is powerfully communicative and intensely felt, though even when creating lighter moods his writing is equally eloquent. His large scale orchestral works are amongst his most striking.

Wood’s orchestral output began with Scenes from Comus which marked his first appearance at the Proms in 1965. Concertos for cello (1969), for violin (1972), and for piano (1991) followed: the first and last of these were Prom premieres, commissioned by the BBC. A second violin concerto was first performed in London in March 2012. The Chamber Concerto, written for the London Sinfonietta, was premiered in 1971. The Symphony, which took eight years to write, also appeared first at a Prom concert in 1982. A set of Orchestral Variations for the BBCSO was written for their tour of Japan, but was first heard here at the Last Night of the Proms in 1998. The Serenade and Elegy for string orchestra and string quartet, in memory of Wood’s daughter, was first heard at Cheltenham in 1999.

Wood’s earliest compositions were in the genre of chamber music. His first work, the Variations for Viola and Piano, was first heard in a London SPNM concert in July 1959 then repeated in January 1960. His Trio for flute, viola and piano was commissioned by the John Lewis Partnership and performed in December 1961. Wood’s first commission from the BBC - one of many - was his first String Quartet, premiered at Cheltenham on 5 July 1962. The Second and Fourth Quartets were commissioned by the BBC for performance in 1970 and 1993 and the third was premiered at the Bath Festival in 1978. The Fifth Quartet was first heard at Sheffield in October 2001. He composed a number of Trios, for various forces: a Piano Trio in 1984: a Horn Trio (Koussevitzky Award) in 1989 and a Clarinet Trio in 1997. There is also a Quintet (Op. 9) for clarinet, horn and piano trio (1967), a Paraphrase on Bird of Paradise for Clarinet and piano (1985), Poem for violin and piano which was premiered in 1994, when Wood was featured composer in the PLG Young Artists series, and a Clarinet Quintet (2007).

Wood’s choral music includes Three Choruses for the John Alldis Choir (1966), The Kingdom of God for St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, and a work for The BBC Singers, From the Pisan Cantos, premiered at Cheltenham in July 2012. Accompanied choral works included the Cantata (Op. 30) and Tenebrae, a setting of poems by Geoffrey Hill. His songs include Song Cycle to Poems by Pablo Neruda (1974) which sets chamber-orchestral forces against a solo voice, and Beginnings, a re-working of three early songs for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra which was first performed at Presteigne Festival in 2010.

There are many songs of which settings of Laurie Lee, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, Edwin Muir, Neruda, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Erich Fried and Christopher Logue are only a small part: these are the perhaps the most neglected part of his output. Nevertheless, Wild Cyclamen (Op. 49), commissioned by the BBC and the Royal Philharmonic Society for Andrew Kennedy, was performed by him and Simon Lepper at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, and given a British Composers Award in 2006.

Many of Hugh Wood’s works have been commercially recorded. They include Scenes from Comus and the Symphony (both NMC); all three concertos, four of the string quartets, The Kingdom of God, the Horn Trio (Erato), and a re-issue of the 1st and 2nd quartets with two song collections The Rider Victory and The Horses (Lyrita). A CD of most of Wood’s chamber music was released on the Toccata Classics label in 2009.

Biographical Details

Works by Hugh Wood

Festival performances of works by Hugh Wood

LFCCM 2022

LFCCM 2016