About this Recording
8.223402 - WOOD: Sketch of a Dandy / London Cameos (Slovak Radio Symphony, Leaper)

Haydn Wood (1882–1959)
Sketch of a Dandy • London Cameos


It seems astonishing that a composer whose output boasted a substantial body of orchestral works including 15 suites, 9 rhapsodies, 8 overtures, 3 big concertante pieces and nearly 50 other assorted items; 6 choral compositions, some chamber music—notably a string quartet and over a dozen instrumental solos—7 song cycles and something in excess of 200 individual songs, should today be remembered more or less by just three of those vocal items (“Roses of Picardy”, “A Brown Bird Singing” and “Love’s Garden of Roses”) and a single movement of his London Landmarks Suite—“Horse Guards, Whitehall”. It’s not as if his musical credentials were in any serious doubt. Quite simply, Haydn Wood, along with others of similar stylistic ilk, fell victim to changes in fashion and especially the sharp reaction against music which preferred to concentrate on appeals to the heart rather than the head, as it were (although, as will be heard on this recording, not all his work was without serious import).

Haydn Wood was born into a musical family in the Yorkshire town of Slaithwaite on March 25, 1882. Although his first name was pronounced Hayden rather than in the manner of the great Franz Joseph, it was, nonetheless, Austria’s famous musical son who dictated the nomenclature. Just days before his wife was due to produce her off-spring, the future composer’s father took himself off to hear a performance of—appropriately enough—The Creation and duly vowed that if the new arrival were to be a boy, he would christen it Haydn. The gender requirement being fulfilled, the promised name was accordingly bestowed!
The young Wood was only two when the family moved to the Isle of Man and it was here that he spent his childhood years. His innate musical talents were encouraged by other members of the household and it was from an elder brother that he began taking lessons on the violin. It was soon obvious that his skills as a performer lay far beyond the ordinary and within a remarkably short space of time, he had earned a local reputation as a child prodigy. Before his teens, he was giving recitals and, in his later years, he used to enjoy telling how he received what he then regarded as the ultimate accolade—being invited by the Douglas municipal authorities to play for holiday-makers for two weeks in succession. At that time apparently, no-one was ever engaged for more than one week. Mind you, not all members of the audience were overjoyed at this exception to the rule and the young violinist’s mother was mortified to overhear the comment “Heavens! This terrible kid again!”

Wood’s exceptional abilities were eventually given wider recognition with the awarding to him at the age of fifteen of an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he was able to benefit from the tuition of Enrique Fernandez Arbos for violin, and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford for composition. Through the latter’s good offices, he was introduced to no less a person than Joseph Joachim, who was visiting London. The great Hungarian-born virtuoso was highly impressed with the young man’s playing and, on his return to the capital three years later, went to the College with the express intention of hearing Wood once again. Another distinguished violinist/composer who granted him a private audience was Pablo Sarasate who also expressed admiration and delight at what he heard. Both men were present at the special concert commemorating the opening of the Royal College of Music’s Concert Hall on June 13, 1901 when Wood was the solo violinist and they lent their wholehearted support to the decision to send him to Brussels for special training under the world-renowned teacher, César Thomson.

On completion of his studies with the Belgian maestro, Haydn Wood embarked on a world tour as solo violinist with the soprano, Mme. Emma Albani, the most popular oratorio singer of her day. His association with the celebrated Canadian artiste was to last for some eight years, but during this time, composition began to play an increasingly important role and, amongst a number of major works that appeared in these early years were a substantial Piano Concerto and a Phantasy String Quartet, the latter coming second in the first Cobbett Prize competition in 1905. He might well have continued writing in such “serious” vein were it not for his meeting with and, in 1909, duly marrying the soprano Dorothy Court. It was for her that he started writing lyrical, sentimental ballads that were eventually to overshadow every other area of his creative output. He often appeared on the musical stage with her and shared in the enthusiastic applause which invariably greeted his songs. Although requiring little compositional effort—the refrain of “Love’s Garden of Roses”, for example, came to Wood one evening in 1914 while he was travelling on top of a London bus in the Finchley Road; he quickly alighted and, by the murky light of a street gas-lamp, quickly scribbled the tune down on the back of an envelope—these vocal miniatures brought him considerable wealth; “Roses of Picardy” alone earning him an estimated £100,000.

He didn’t give up writing on a larger scale altogether, however. The encouragement of the BBC elicited works such as the Violin Concerto and the Philharmonic Variations for cello and orchestra, whilst miscellaneous Suites appeared from time to time. In 1917, he tried his hand at a musical with Cash on Delivery and then, twelve years later, contributed to the show Dear Love, which was staged at London’s Palace Theatre with Claude Hulbert, Sydney Howard, Dino Galvani, Robert Nainby and Vera Pearce in the leading roles. Occasionally, Wood would take to the conductor’s rostrum, usually to direct his own pieces—he was, in fact, given his own programme by the BBC on the occasion of his 70th birthday—and, from 1939, he served as a Director of the Performing Rights Society. His final years were spent relatively quietly and he eventually died in a London nursing-home on March 11, 1959, two weeks before his 77th birthday.

SKETCH OF A DANDY: This delightful miniature, dating from 1950 shows, that age had done nothing to diminish the 68 year old composer’s gift for creating simple, pleasing melodies accompanied by occasionally piquant harmonies. Wood provided his own brief scenario for this little gem of light music:

Conjure up in your mind the gay nineties and picture a dandy taking his morning constitutional down Bond Street on a beautiful day in Spring. He meets one of his charming lady friends and exchanges pleasantries with her. He reluctantly leaves her and strolls on his way.

SERENADE TO YOUTH: Scored for woodwind and strings, this is another product of Wood’s later years, coming just two years after the Sketch of a Dandy, in 1952. Shot through with a sentimental vein reminiscent of his songs and ballads, the composer could well be paying an affectionately nostalgic tribute to his own happy childhood.

MANNIN VEEN: The title of this work, described as “A Manx Tone Poem”, means “Dear Isle of Man”. It was written in 1932/3 and is one of a number of pieces inspired by the area in which Haydn Wood grew up. The dedication is inscribed to the conductor Joseph Lewis who, through his association with broadcasting in the earliest years of the BBC, did a great deal to make the composer’s music widely known. The piece is essentially an orchestral rhapsody built on four Manx folk-songs and Wood provided a background note to the tunes he employed:

The first tune, “The Good Old Way”, is an old and typical air written mostly in the Dorian mode. The major portion of this tune was probably added about 1882, following on the introduction of Primitive Methodism into the Isle of Man.

The second tune, which introduces the lively section of the work, is a reel—“The Manx Fiddler”. Chaloner, writing in the middle of the seventeenth century, remarked that the Manx people were “much addicted to the music of the violin, so that there is scarce a family in the Island, but more or less can play upon it; but as they are ill composers, so they are bad players”.

The third tune, “Sweet Water in the Common”, relates to the old practice of summoning a jury of twenty-four men, comprised from each of the parishes in the district where the dispute took place, to decide questions connected with watercourses, boundaries, etc.

The fourth and last tune is a fine old hymn, “The Harvest of the Sea”, sung by the fishermen as a song of thanksgiving after their safe return from the fishing grounds:

Hear us, O Lord, from Thy heav’nly home above, Though fierce the storm, protect us with Thy love. Grant we survive the perils of the sea, Father of Heaven we put our trust in Thee.
After all four themes have been presented, they are recapitulated, in the order 2, 3, 1 and the work ends in a grandiose restatement of the great hymn tune.

SUITE: LONDON CAMEOS: It is not entirely clear when this delightful Suite was written, although 1942 seems a likely date. The music wasn’t published until several years afterwards, however, with the second movement appearing in 1953, the third in 1956 and the first in 1957.

London is obviously a very jolly place, if Haydn Wood’s opening Miniature Overture “The City” is anything to go by. A robust idea, announced at the outset, is duly taken up with relish by the horns and then quickly seized upon by the muted trumpets. All is hustle and bustle, but there is a distinct hint of rusticity in the ensuing themes, including the lovely, lyrical tune presented by the oboe and violins. It may not be everyone’s idea of England’s capital city, but it certainly paints a charming picture of the way many people would like it to be.

“St. James’s Park in Spring” also presents an idyllic aspect, replete with attendant birdsong and a big, sweeping romantic theme for the violins, while the finale provides an ideal excuse for a big concert waltz. It has a most distinctive flavour, worlds away from the 3/4 masterpieces of Vienna and quite unlike the many fine examples of the genre by Eric Coates. One cannot be certain, however, that the regal inhabitants of Buckingham Palace would have fully approved of this curious, somewhat bitter-sweet affair with its occasional rhythmic upsets calculated to wrong foot even the most experienced dancer, and unexpected twists of melody and harmony. But as a piece of inventive, entertaining writing, it is second to none and eloquently proves, were proof needed, just how fine a composer Haydn Wood really was.

RHAPSODY: MYLECHARANE: One of the finest of Haydn Wood’s Manx inspired pieces, this orchestral rhapsody—pronounced “Mulla Ca Rain”, with the accent on the last syllable—was composed shortly after the Second World War. Once again, Wood supplied a brief background note explaining the work’s origins:

This work derives its title from the opening theme, one of the oldest and finest of Manx folk tunes. There are conflicting opinions as to its origin. The general belief is that Mylecharane was a miser. On the other hand, a well-known authority on Manx folk-lore suggests that the word may be a corruption of Moilley Chaim, meaning “Praise the Lord”. The composer prefers to think it is the latter because of its choral qualities. The subsequent themes are original.

Even when Wood is using non-traditional melodies, there is nonetheless a strongly “authentic” tang about them. The first “original” idea seems to hark back to “The Manx Fiddler”, which featured in Mannin Veen while the attractive short-breathed hymn-like tune seems to be a none too-distant relative of Mylecharane itself.

CONCERT WALTZ: JOYOUSNESS (NO. 6 OF SUITE: MOODS): Haydn Wood wrote his large six-movement Suite Moods in 1932 and dedicated it to his sister Adeline. The various moods of Dignity, Allurement, Coquetry, Pensiveness, Felicity and Joyousness are represented respectively by a Prelude, Novelette, Caprice, Romance, Spring Song and Concert Waltz, the last of which is played here. This sturdy piece shares that undefinable “Englishness” associated with another fine light music waltz composer, Eric Coates—something which sets it quite firmly apart from its Viennese counterpart. Tempo certainly plays a part in that English waltzes do tend to demand a rather quicker tempo than the strictly dance-related examples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While not as intriguingly wayward as A State Ball at Buckingham Palace, there are still quite a few moments where the prevailing 3/4 is deliciously undermined!

A BROWN BIRD SINGING: The composer made so-called “paraphrases for orchestra” of five of his most popular songs—Roses of Picardy, Bird of Love Divine, I Hear You Calling Me, Until and A Brown Bird Singing.

It is easy in these cynical times to sneer at ballads such as “A Brown Bird Singing”. They belong to a far-distant era whose values and beliefs seem to us today (more’s the pity) to be remote and unrealistic. So, it may be worth recalling the words of one W.H. Glendining who, not long after the First World War, paid tribute to Haydn Wood and his songs thus: He has definitely contributed something which has beautified and helped the lives of his fellow-men. He has given freely of the inspiring melody, his soul and brain, and at a crisis in the history of this grand old country, … he probably did as much to encourage, to keep our morale with his music, as any statesman or general. “The Roses of Picardy” will be fragrantly blooming, the “Bird of Love” will still sing, and there will always be a “Garden of Roses” and “A Brown Bird Singing” while a piano or gramophone or voice remains in this land.

APOLLO: OVERTURE: Of his seven orchestral Overtures (eight, if one counts the first movement of London Cameos,), Haydn Wood chose Greek subjects for three of them—Eros, Minerva and Apollo. The latter was written in 1934/5 and first performed on Sunday, April 28, 1935 by the BBC Orchestra (Section E), conducted by Joseph Lewis, as the opening item of a programme broadcast at 9 p.m. which also included an extraordinary miscellany  of snippets of Elgar, Verdi, Handel, Mozart. German, Gounod and Wagner.

This remarkable work begs the question: where does light music end and “serious” repertoire begin? For what we have here is a full-scale concert overture worthy of—and, indeed, not a little influenced by—Wood’s teacher, Stanford. It is a powerful work written in the nineteenth century Romantic style and scrupulously following the sonata form structure of exposition, development, recapitulation and coda. A striking four-note figure heard at the very outset recurs at strategic points along the way. The first subject, a somewhat earnest theme introduced by the strings, is quickly driven to impassioned heights prior to the arrival of the second main idea, a more settled theme which moves quickly from the clarinet, to the violins and then to the oboe. This is the material from which Haydn Wood proceeds to build his imposing musical edifice, whose eventual conclusion in D major offers a dramatic contrast to the minor mode in which the work began.

THE SEAFARER; A NAUTICAL RHAPSODY: Based on “Halliard, Capstan and Hauling Shanties”, and dedicated “in admiration to all the brave men who go down to the sea in ships”, this work was written in January 1940. Various familiar tunes put in appearances, beginning with the trumpets’ and trombones’ rendition of “Hullabaloo Balay”. Then the strings and woodwind present “Rio Grande” and after a brief reprise of the first theme, we hear the slightly wistful strains of “Leave Her, Johnnie, Leave Her”. In due course, “The Drunken Sailor”, restores a little animation, with just the hint of a hornpipe tucked in amongst the proceedings. “Shenandoah” soon follows as an elegant oboe solo, to be replaced eventually by “When Johnny Comes Down To Hilo”, strings, woodwind and glockenspiel to the fore. “Roving” is introduced by some appositely meandering modulations and the Rhapsody draws to a spirited conclusion with a brief pass-in-review of some of the tunes heard earlier.

© 1992 Tim McDonald

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