About this Recording
8.223605 - WOOD: Paris Suite / A May-Day Overture

Haydn Wood (1882–1959)
Paris Suite • A May-Day Overture • Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song • A Manx Rhapsody


It seems astonishing that a composer whose output boasted a substantial body of orchestral works including fifteen suites, nine rhapsodies, eight overtures, three big concertante pieces and nearly fifty other assorted items; six choral compositions, some chamber music—notably a string quartet and over a dozen instrumental solos—seven song cycles and something in excess of two hundred 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 25th March, 1882. Although his first name was pronounced English 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 wide 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 of Enrique Fernandez of 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 13th June, 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, Cesar 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 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 did not 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 seventieth 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 11th March, 1959, two weeks before his 77th birthday.

[1] A May-Day Overture
The 1st May has had mystical significance in Europe since pre-Christian days. It is known that in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries all work in the countryside stopped on May Day to celebrate the beginning of summer. May Day was to remain a time for celebration right to the present-day with fertility rites superseded by somewhat more circumspect rituals, including dancing round the Maypole and the election of a May Queen.
A May-Day Overture, which was published in 1918, begins with an evocation of dawn, perhaps pointing to the ancient custom of young maidens who would go out early on May Day to bathe their faces in the morning dew, a sure recipe for a beautiful complexion, (“Dabbling in the dew makes the milkmaid fair” as the folk-song has it) and the calm of the day is soon broken by the rumbustious main section, which bounds gaily along, expressing all the facets of a day’s festivities, with more than a hint of the pagan in its uninhibited, extended coda.

[2] Soliloquy
Written in Haydn Wood’s late sixties, his Soliloquy received its first performance in a programme of “Evening Melodies” on the BBC’s Light Programme on 6th January, 1948, played by John Blore’s orchestra. According to the Isle of Man Daily Times of 8th January, “Soliloquy gives the atmosphere of a lazy summer afternoon, with the humming of bees and the smell of flowers and new mown hay”. But this composition goes a great deal deeper than that. A soliloquy is by definition introspective, written without the awareness of listeners. So here we are privileged to eavesdrop on the composer’s inmost thoughts, unrelated to things tangible. Following that broadcast, Soliloquy’s first public performance was by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, conductor Rudolf Schwarz, on 7th August the same year.

[3] Variations on a Once Popular Humorous Song
The programme-note written by a certain E.B. for the publication of this work in 1927 begins as follows, This work, originally written as a musical jest, is based on a comic song which all but the youngest hearers will recognise as one of the tunes that held sway before English popular songs had succumbed to the lure of jazz. For the information of the new generation it should perhaps be stated that this classic of a particular brand of light music which is now almost extinct, was called “If you want to know the time, ask p’liceman”. Lest this disclosure should make some members of the audience tremble for the purity of our concert halls, it may be said at once that the treatment of this tune in a series of seven variations and a symphonically extended finale, though entertaining in character, betrays throughout a fastidious and skilful musicianship.

A song considered “once popular” in 1927, written long before by E.W. Rogers, could expect to be classed as unknown in the 1990s. But the tune, given out at the start by solo horn, is instantly memorable. It has what all good themes chosen for variations have, a form which holds together the variations to come, and a melody distinctive enough to be recognised, consciously or unconsciously, in various guises as the work proceeds, whether slowed down or quickened, or jostled around in a triple-time scherzo rhythm. The seven variations, each one a gem, are carefully placed and contrasted to sustain perfect flow and gathering interest. The flippancy of the original concept finds itself outmanoeuvred as the work proceeds, reaching a seventh variation of great dignity. The vigorous rhapsodic finale is a movement in its own right, with the “want-to-know-the-time-ask-a-p’liceman” motif constantly in attendance often at double the speed, inexorably linking us to the original theme. The grandeur of the final climax tells us this is symphonic light music at its best.

[4–6] Suite: Paris
Haydn Wood drew inspiration not only from the scenes and sights of London, but those of major cities abroad, witness his 1937 suite, Cities of Romance—Budapest, Venice and Seville. But no city has more to invite the descriptive music than Paris, hence the Paris Suite of 1935.

I. Waltz: Apache Life
Apache is the name of a tribe of North American Indians. The same term was adopted to describe the gangsters of the Paris underworld at around the turn of this century .The imagined life-style of the Paris Apaches was a natural to attract stage choreographers and thus came the characteristic Apache Dance, a Pas de Deux in which impassioned embrace alternates with knock-about pseudo-violence. That this clearly intrigued Haydn Wood is seen in his Suite for Light Orchestra of 1929, the first movement being an Apache Valse. Apache Life is an even more balletic waltz, violently contrasting the tender and the frenetic.

II. Meditation: In the Tuileries Garden
No visit to Paris is complete without a meander through one of the world’s famous gardens, Les Tuileries. It spreads over a kilometre along the bank of the Seine from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde. On this site once stood the Palace of the Tuileries, built by Catherine de’Medici in the sixteenth century , all trace of which has been lost after the depredations of the French Revolution and the uprising of 1871. All that is forgotten in the peace and tranquillity of the present-day scene.

III. March: Montmartre
Montmartre, on the north side of Paris, is a district that evokes distinctly different impressions. There is the all-in white grandeur of the Basilica of the sacre-Coeur on the hill of Montmartre; there are the steep streets that ascend that hill, which have attracted many a movie director. Here we have the Montmartre of music-halls and cabaret and a march far removed from the parade ground, expressing all the gaiety of theatreland.

[7] Roses of Picardy (Song Intermezzo)
Roses of Picardy was published in 1916 when the Great War was at its height and was an immediate success. Strangely enough, when the song was originally submitted to Chappell and Company in London, with music by another composer, it was rejected. But the publisher, spotting the potential of Fred E. Weatherley’s lyric, invited Haydn Wood to set it afresh. Though a simple song of a lovely French lass hearing in her heart the voice of her lover far away in Picardy, likening her to the roses flowering there, its yearning phrases found an echo in the hearts of everyone and the song became one of the most successful of all time. It sold over three million records and over two million song copies. It is hardly feasible that the present generation can recapture the underlying sense of heart-rending grief that was unexpressed but ever-present in the 1920s and 1930s, at the memory of so many never-to-return loved ones. This could hardly have failed to colour Haydn Wood’s conception of Roses of Picardy when he came to fashion his orchestral version of it in 1933. The song’s original introduction is imbued with a new intensity, before the solo violin takes up the verse of the song: “She is watching by the poplars” … “longing and waiting” … “ A song stirs the silence” … and she hears the refrain from afar, “Roses are blooming in Picardy”…The peace of the refrain is broken as the music builds slowly to a climax with a fervid restatement of the introduction, expressing the tragedy of war. Yet once again, this time heard on cellos, comes the distant “Roses are blooming in Picardy…” This time the refrain ends on a note of confidence and hope: though “the roses will die with the summertime… there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, ’tis the rose that I keep in my heart.”

[8] A Manx Rhapsody
Though born in Yorkshire, Haydn Wood’s move to the Isle of Man at the age of two makes him a Manxman above all. The Isle of Man is an independent country set in the middle of the Irish Sea, with the distant Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland to the North, South, East and West. Its isolation made it natural for its own distinctive folk-tunes and dances to develop, and indeed its own Celtic language, closely related to the Welsh. This rhapsody, published in 1931, is one of several of Haydn Wood works inspired by Manx folk-songs and affinities, another being Mylecharane, featured on his first CD in this series (8.223402).

The majestic opening of A Manx Rhapsody is based on Ny Kirree fo Niaghtey (The Sheep under the Snow), leading to a lively dance Yn Bollan Bane (The White Wort). The composer carries on the dance by introducing themes of his own before the next Manx dance first announced by the oboe, Hie Mee stiagh Dhys Thie Ben-treoghe (The Cutting of the Turf). The contrasting middle section presents the lovely Ushap veg ny moaney dhoo (Little Red Bird of the Black Marsh) quietly played by the strings. There follows a return to rhythms and melodies of the dances heard earlier and the rhapsody trips along to a strongly built ending.

Suite: Frescoes
[9] Sea Shanties

The Haydn Wood suite of 1936, Frescoes, was inspired by the mural decorations by Miss Anna Zinkeisen which graced a famous music publishing house. This movement is based round two shanties, the broad romantic sweep of Shenandoah contrasting with the lively What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor. Clearly Haydn Wood found inspiration from these melodies, since he also featured them in his 1942 overture The Seafarer, which ends the first Wood CD.

[10] March: The Bandstand, Hyde Park
The fresco chosen for the third and final movement of the suite was the bandstand in Hyde Park in London, still the venue for concerts of light music throughout the summer months. The minor-key main themes of this most popular march make a particularly stirring impact.

[11] An Evening Song
Amongst the works of Haydn Wood, as with those of Eric Coates and other composers of the day, lie many an individual piece written, one might conjecture, simply because the composer had a good tune and had to set it down. Once such which demands to be better known, is An Evening Song of 1923. Characteristically, Haydn Wood does not let the listener settle into too relaxed a frame of mind, introducing more impassioned statements towards the end before settling back to a gentle conclusion.

[12] Dance of a Whimsical Elf (Suite: A Day in Fairyland)
The escapist nature of much light music of the 1920s and 1930s often finds outlet in visits to fairyland. The four movement suite A Day in Fairyland was first performed in November 1933 in a broadcast by the BBC Orchestra Section C, conducted Joseph Lewis. The second movement was then entitled Dance of a Lone Elf and could well have stayed that way, typical of a divertissement from a 19th century French ballet, except that our saucy elf has the whimsicality to dance in five time, hence the present title.

[13] March: The Horseguards, Whitehall (Suite: London Landmarks)
Whitehall, in the city of Westminster, runs amid a host of government buildings from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. As we pass the Cenotaph and proceed towards the Admiralty we see two resplendent Guardsman on their immobile horses standing sentry outside the arch which leads through to the Horse Guards Parade, the scene of the annual Trooping the Colours ceremony.

At the time The Horseguards, Whitehall was published (1946) Britain was beginning to savour the joy of peace after six years of war. Sombre khaki and “tin hats” could now be replaced by the scarlet tunics and high plumed helmets of the traditional Horse Guard uniform. The military aspect of the march is overtaken to become concert music in its own right. This march has become a firm favourite from having been used for many years as the signature tune for BBC radio’s Down Your Way programme. It provides a fitting finale to this second volume of the music of Haydn Wood who, with Eric Coates, represents the peak of 20th century British Light Music achievement.

© 1997 Ernest Tomlinson

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