© Jonas Persson
Brief Biography: Despite a musical upbringing, it was only after graduating in History from Oxford that Hugh Wood decided to dedicate his energies to composition, moving to London in 1954 to study with William Lloyd Webber, Anthony Milner, Iain Hamilton and Mátyás Seiber. Sometimes violently expressionistic, sometimes poignantly lyrical, his music is powerfully communicative and intensely felt, though when creating lighter moods, such as in the jazzy Piano Concerto, his writing is equally eloquent. He typically prefers chamber music genres, though large scale works such as Symphony and Violin Concerto are amongst his most striking.For a complete biography, click here.
- Variations for viola and piano, Op 1
- Chamber Concerto, Op 15
(1971; large ensemble)
- Robert Graves Songs, Set 1, Op 18
(1976; high voice, piano)
- String Quartet No 3, Op 20
- Horn Trio, Op 29 (1989)
- Piano Concerto, Op 32 (1991)
- Violin Concerto No 2 (2004)
- Beginnings: Three Early Songs (2010; mezzo-soprano, strings)
- 1965 highly acclaimed Proms premiere of BBC commission Scenes from Comus
- 1969 Proms premiere of Cello Concerto, commissioned by the BBC
- 1982 Proms premiere of Symphony by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
- 1998 UK premiere of Variations for Orchestra at Last Night of the Proms
- 2001 The Lindsays premiere String Quartet No 5 in Sheffield
Hugh Wood was born at Parbold, near Wigan, Lancashire, on 27 June 1932. His mother was a pianist, but though music was therefore an active force in his life from early on, he went up to Oxford as an historian, and only subsequently took up full-time musical study (with Anthony Milner, Iain Hamilton and Matyas Seiber). He himself has since taught music regularly, at various levels: at Morley College (1958-67), the Royal Academy of Music (1962-75), Glasgow (1966-70) and Liverpool (1971-75) Universities, and finally Cambridge (1976-99), where he was a Fellow of Churchill College. He is a well-known broadcaster and writer on music, brilliantly effective especially as a polemicist against hack criticism, and a superb apologist for music that he happens to admire. A book of Hugh Wood's collected writings was published by Plumbago Press in January 2008.
As a composer, Wood has typically preferred chamber music genres, a leaning which suggests a greater interest in the structural and contrapuntal working-out of ideas than in colourful sound or musical portraiture or narrative. An early String Quartet was performed at the Cheltenham Festival in 1959, and he has since written five further string quartets, two Piano Trios, a Flute Trio (with viola and piano) and a Horn Trio, composed in response to the Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award (1985); also a Quintet for clarinet, horn and piano trio, a Chamber Concerto commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and the brass quintet Funeral Music commissioned by the 1992 Three Choirs Festival. His orchestral writing includes concerti for cello, violin and piano; the symphonic cantata Scenes from Comus (1962-5) based on Milton’s masque; a Symphony; and a set of Variations, written for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and performed at the Last Night of the Proms in 1998. Another large-scale orchestral work is the deeply personal Serenade and Elegy for string orchestra and string quartet, written in memory of the composer’s daughter.
Song-writing has always been important to Wood, and he has written songs to poems by Laurie Lee, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, Pablo Neruda, T. S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. Wild Cyclamen, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the BBC for Andrew Kennedy, gained Wood a British Composers Award 2006 in the category of Vocal Music. In nearly all this music, the lyrical strain is superficially paramount, while the desire to organise and control perhaps explains why Wood produces rather slowly. As with so many ‘natural’ lyricists, the impression of effortlessness is hard-won.
Many of Hugh Wood’s works have been commercially recorded, including his symphony, all three concerti, four string quartets, The Kingdom of God (a choral work composed for St Paul’s Cathedral Choir) and his Horn Trio (recorded by David Pyatt, Peter Donohoe and Levon Chilingirian). A CD of Wood’s chamber music, performed by the Archduke Trio and friends, was released on the Toccata Classics label in 2009, and a CD of his song cycles is also planned.
Edward Venn's book devoted to the music of Hugh Wood was published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd in 2008, confirming that interest in his music is as strong as ever. For more information on the book please click here