Hugh Wood (1932-2021)

Hugh Wood (1932-2021)
Hugh Wood
© Chris Wood

Chester Music Limited is sad to announce the death of distinguished composer, teacher and writer Hugh Wood, who passed away on 14 August aged 89.

‘It has been our privilege to have been Hugh Wood’s publisher throughout a long and distinguished career,' writes Chris Butler, Director of Global Rights Development. 'He has left us all with a lasting body of fine work which will remain in the repertoire of musicians for years to come.’

Gill Graham, Group Head of Promotion & Creative Director, UK Rights Companies comments: ‘Hugh was one of a kind. He wrote wonderful, lasting music that communicates on every level. His preference was to write chamber music and he leaves a large catalogue of work including the five string quartets. Even so, the large scale works such as the Piano Concerto written for Joanna McGregor, and Scenes from Comus, setting texts by Milton, entered the repertoire to great acclaim. He would have celebrated his 90th birthday next year - we will miss him.’

Professor Joanna MacGregor CBE, Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Music Director of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra remembers: ‘A wonderful and rigorous teacher, and a warm, supportive mentor, I was honoured to premiere Hugh's Piano Concerto at the Proms in 1991, and - later - his Ballade at Bath Music Festival. His music had emotional depth and architecture, embodying his musical heroes. I will miss Hugh with all my heart.’

Born in Lancashire in 1932, Wood read modern history at New College, Oxford, before pursuing academic musical studies in his early 20s. Among his teachers were William Lloyd Webber, Anthony Milner, Iain Hamilton and Mátyás Seiber.

His earliest works were performed at the Cheltenham Music Festival and at concerts hosted by the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) in the late 1950s, with a commission from the BBC for his String Quartet No. 1 (the first of five) following in 1962. Wider recognition came with the premiere of his orchestral work Scenes from Comus at the 1965 Proms. In the subsequent years, this was followed by concertos for cello (1969), violin (1972 and 2004) and piano (1991), as well as a Symphony (1982), Variations for Orchestra (performed at the Last Night of the Proms in 1998) and Serenade and Elegy (1999) for string quartet and orchestra, written in memory of the composer’s daughter.

Chamber music played an equally important part in Wood’s output, with contributions to the repertoire for string quartet, horn trio, piano trio, wind quintet and brass quintet in addition to many smaller works. His love of and feeling for English literature is reflected in a large body of vocal music which includes settings of W H Auden, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, D H Lawrence, Laurie Lee and Dylan Thomas.

Wood pursued a parallel career as a teacher with posts at Morley College, the Royal Academy of Music, the universities of Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and finally Cambridge, where he was University Lecturer and later Fellow and Director of Studies in Music at Churchill College from 1977 until his retirement in 1999. Staking Out the Territory, a book of Wood’s writings on music, was published by Plumbago Press in 2008. The following year, the composer’s life and music was the subject of an academic study by Edward Venn published by Ashgate Press.

Wood’s final compositions were An Epithalamion, Or Mariage Song for chorus and orchestra, which was premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir Andrew Davis at the BBC Proms in 2015, and a string trio, Ithaka (2016). Scenes from Comus returned to the Proms for the third time in 2019 and earlier this year there were recording releases of several late works; Ithaka, Beginnings and Divertimento.

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