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Henry Wood conducts Franck: Symphony in D minor
29.08.2009, 01:19

Sir Henry Joseph Wood (3 March 1869 – 19 August 1944) was an English conductor, forever associated with the Promenade Concerts which he conducted for half a century. Founded in 1895, they became known after his death as the "Henry Wood Promenade Concerts” (now the "BBC Proms”). He had an enormous influence on musical life in Britain: he improved access immensely, and also raised the standard of orchestral playing and nurtured the taste of the public, introducing them to a vast repertoire of music, encouraging especially compositions by British composers. He was knighted in 1911.

Wood was born in London. His father was a qualified optician, but had become well-known as a craftsman and model maker, running a highly successful model engine shop in Oxford Street. Both parents were keen amateur musicians: his father sang in church choirs and played the cello and his mother sang songs from her native Wales.
He was deputy organist of St Mary Aldermanbury at the age of ten. At the age of fourteen, he played the organ at the 'Musicians' Church' St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, the largest parish church in the City of London, where his ashes now rest  (despite Wood being an honorary associate of the Rationalist Press Association from 1937 until his death).
He also learned the piano and violin, but it was not until he entered the Royal Academy of Music at the age of sixteen that he received methodical tuition. During his two years at the RAM he took classes in piano, organ, composition and singing. His teachers included Ebenezer Prout (composition) and Manuel Garcia (singing). His ambition at the time was to become a teacher of singing (and he gave singing lessons throughout his life), and so he attended classes of as many singing teachers as he could, both as pupil and as accompanist.
On leaving the Royal Academy of Music he found work as a singing teacher and as an orchestral and choral conductor. He gained experience by working for several opera companies, many of them obscure. He conducted the Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1891, and the following year the English premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the newly rebuilt Olympic Theatre. He collaborated with Arthur Sullivan on preparation of The Yeomen of the Guard and Ivanhoe. Meanwhile he was deriving a steady income from his singing tuition, and he published a manual The Gentle Art of Singing.
In 1898 Wood married Princess Olga Ourousoff, who died in 1909. He married again in 1911, to Muriel Ellen Greatrex, with whom he had two daughters.

In 1893, Robert Newman, manager of the Queen's Hall, proposed holding a series of promenade concerts with Wood as conductor. The term promenade concert normally referred to concerts in London parks where the audience could walk about as they listened (French se promener = to walk). Newman’s aim was to educate the musical taste of the public who were not used to listening to serious classical music unless it was presented in small doses with plenty of other popular items in between. Wood shared Newman’s ideals. Dr George Cathcart, a wealthy ear, nose and throat specialist, offered to sponsor the project on condition that Wood took charge of every concert. He also insisted that the pitch of the instruments, which in England was nearly a semitone higher than that used on the continent, should be brought down to diapason normal (A=435Hz). On 10 August 1895 the first of the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts took place. The singer Agnes Nicholls, who was in the audience, recalled:
Just before 8 o’clock I saw Henry Wood take up his position behind the curtain at the end of the platform – watch in hand. Punctually, on the stroke of eight, he walked quickly to the rostrum, buttonhole and all, and began the National Anthem...... A few moments for the audience to settle down, then the Rienzi Overture, and the first concert of the new Promenades had begun.
It is particularly significant that he should have chosen an overture by Wagner to open the first programme. Prejudice against British musicians was very strong. Nineteenth century England had been labelled by the Germans Das Land ohne Musik ("The Land without Music”) and not without a certain amount of justification. Henry Wood was to alter all that. In particular, it was thought that no British conductor would be capable of conducting Wagner. Wood was to prove otherwise. In fact, for many years the programming of the promenade concerts followed a particular pattern according to the day of the week, with Monday nights being Wagner nights and Friday being dedicated to Beethoven. Wood also bravely introduced British audiences to many noteworthy European composers, especially Sibelius and composers of the Russian school. In 1912 he conducted Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces ("Stick to it, gentlemen” he urged the orchestra at rehearsal, "This is nothing to what you’ll have to play in 25 years’ time”).
Wood remained in sole charge of the Proms (with one or two exceptions) until 1941 when he shared the conducting with Basil Cameron and, in the following season, with Sir Adrian Boult as well. During Wood’s time the Proms were a central feature of British musical life and he gained the nickname of "Timber" from the Promenaders. He brought about many innovations. He fought continuously for improved pay for musicians, and introduced women into the orchestra in 1911. In 1904, after a rehearsal in which he was faced with a sea of entirely unfamiliar faces in his own orchestra, he at one stroke abolished the deputy system in which players had been free to send in a deputy whenever they wished. Forty players resigned en bloc and formed their own orchestra: the London Symphony Orchestra.
Wood's fame lies mainly with the promenade concerts, but he was active in many areas of musical life. He conducted many concerts in London and the provinces, and appeared regularly at choral festivals in Norwich and Sheffield. He conducted many amateur groups, and was very generous with the time he gave to the students’ orchestra at the RAM. He was meticulous and thorough in his preparation, and built up a large library of scores which were carefully marked up in coloured pencil. His famous medley Fantasia on British Sea Songs, prepared for the 1905 centenary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar, is now an indispensable item at the Last Night of the Proms.
His orchestrations of other composers' works drew frequent criticisms, so when in 1929 he made an orchestral transcription of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, he presented it as a transcription by a Russian composer called Paul Klenovsky. Klenovsky was a real person, a recently deceased young musician friend of Alexander Glazunov's, and Wood thought a foreign name would secure a more favourable reception than his own. It was a great success. Only several years later did he confess to the little joke. The work was nonetheless published in 1934 as "Bach-Klenovsky, Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor, for Orchestra (orchestrated by Sir Henry J. Wood)".
In 1938 he presented a jubilee concert in the Royal Albert Hall. Sergei Rachmaninoff was the soloist, and for the occasion Vaughan Williams wrote his Serenade to Music for orchestra and sixteen soloists.
A number of honours were bestowed on him: knighted by the king in 1911, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1921 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1944.
Wood tended to overwork himself, and the strain began to tell in his later years. He died on 19 August 1944, just over a week after the fiftieth anniversary concert of the Proms, which he had been too ill even to listen to on the radio.
The poet laureate John Masefield composed a poem of six verses in his honour, entitled "Sir Henry Wood" but often referred to by its first line "Where does the uttered music go?". This was set to music as an anthem for mixed choir by Sir William Walton which received its first performance on 26 April 1946 at St. Sepulchre's Church, Holborn, London, on the occasion of a ceremony unveiling a memorial stained-glass window in Sir Henry Wood's honour.
He is remembered today in the name of the Henry Wood Hall, the deconsecrated Holy Trinity Church in Southwark, which was converted to a rehearsal and recording venue in 1975. His bust stands upstage centre in the Royal Albert Hall during the whole of each Prom season, and is decorated by a chaplet on the Last Night of the Proms.

César Franck (December 10, 1822 – November 8, 1890), a Belgian composer, organist and music teacher who lived in France, was one of the great figures in Romantic music in the second half of the 19th century. César Auguste Jean Guillaume Hubert Franck was born in Liège, Belgium, to a father from the German-Belgian border and a German mother. His father had ambitions for him to become a concert pianist, and he studied at the conservatoire in Liège before going to the Paris Conservatoire in 1838 after private studies with Anton Reicha for a year. Upon leaving in 1842 he briefly returned to Belgium, but went back to Paris in 1844 and remained there for the rest of his life. His decision to give up a career as a virtuoso led to strained relations with his father during this time.
During his first years in Paris, Franck made his living by teaching, both privately and institutionally. He also held various posts as organist: from 1847 to 1851 he was organist at Notre Dame de Lorette, and from 1851 to 1858 he was organist at Saint Jean and St François. During this time he became familiar with the work of the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and he also worked on developing his technique as an organist and improviser.
In 1858, he became organist at the newly-consecrated Saint Clotilde Basilica, where he remained until his death. Here he began to attract attention for his skill as an improviser. His first set of organ compositions, however, was not published until 1868, when he was 46 years old, although it contains one of his finest organ pieces, the Grande Pièce Symphonique. From 1872 to his death he was professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory. His pupils included Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, and Henri Duparc. As an organist he was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation, and on the basis of merely twelve major organ works, Franck is considered by many the greatest composer of organ music after J. S. Bach. His works were some of the finest organ pieces to come from France in over a century, and laid the groundwork for the French symphonic organ style. In particular, his Grande Pièce Symphonique, a work of 25 minutes' duration, paved the way for the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Marcel Dupré. In 1890, Franck was involved in a serious traffic accident. It was after this accident that he wrote his Trois chorals for organ. Franck died as a result of complications from the accident very shortly after finishing the chorales. He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

The Symphony in D minor is the most famous orchestral work and the only symphony written by the 19th-century Belgian composer César Franck. After two years of work, the symphony was completed 22 August 1888. It was premiered at the Paris Conservatory on 17 February 1889 under the direction of Jules Garcin. Franck dedicated it to his pupil Henri Duparc.

Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp and strings.

César Franck's fame and reputation rest largely upon a small number of compositions, most of them composed toward the end of his life. Of these, the Symphony in D minor was one of his last works. It was first performed only a year before Franck died.

The fact that Franck finally chose to write a symphony is itself unusual, given the rarity of the form in 19th-century France, which considered the symphony a redoubt of German music. It is likely that the genesis of the Symphony in D minor followed upon the success of his influential Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra composed in 1885.
Additionally, the success of several works by other French composers had nudged the symphonic form back into favour with the French concert-going public. The Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns and (although a work for piano and orchestra) the Symphony on a French Mountain Air by Vincent d'Indy, both written in 1886 and popularly received, had helped to revive the symphony as a concert piece, dormant since the appearance of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique in 1830. (An earlier piece, the Symphonie Espagnole (1875) by Édouard Lalo is a violin concerto.) Both these works, however, sought to create compositional distance with the symphonic form and sound of the German romantic idiom (exemplified by Brahms and Richard Wagner) through several "French" innovations, including integrating piano (and in the case of Saint-Saëns, the organ) into the orchestra, and using a cyclic thematic style.
Like the earlier works of Saint-Saëns and Berlioz, as with his own compositions, Franck also made use of a cyclic structure in the composition of his symphony. Indeed, the Symphony in D remains the most outstanding example of cyclic symphonic writing in the Romantic tradition. However, Franck also used a typically "Germanic" sound, eschewing both the novelties of orchestration (with one notable exception) or nationalist thematic inspiration that Saint-Saëns and D'Indy had used to differentiate their own symphonic works. As a result, Franck's Symphony in D can be seen as the union of two largely distinct national forms: the French cyclic form with the German romantic symphonic form, with clear Wagnerian and Lisztian influences.
Due in part to this unexpected fusion, the piece was poorly received upon its first performance. More importantly, however, the reception of Franck's symphony was greatly affected by the politicised world of French music following the split in the Société Nationale de Musique, which had been founded by Saint-Saëns in 1871 in reaction to anti-German sentiment aroused by the Franco-Prussian War. The 1886 split was driven by the Société's decision to accept "foreign" (i.e. principally German) music and an admiration for the music of Richard Wagner by some of its younger members (notably Franck himself and D'Indy). This unacceptable betrayal of French music led several conservative members of the Société, led by Saint-Saëns, to resign; Franck himself thereon assumed the presidency. The resulting environment was poisonous. The controversy permeated the Conservatoire de Paris and made it very difficult for Franck to get his symphony premiered. His score rejected by the leading conductor Charles Lamoureux, Franck resorted to the conservatory orchestra which was obliged to play faculty works. Even then, rehearsals were desultory and reaction negative.
Sitting in on a rehearsal under the baton of Jules Garcin, where the players were resistant and uncooperative, Conservatoire director Ambroise Thomas is supposed to have remarked in reaction to the second movement (and quoted by Vincent d'Indy, in his biography of Franck) "name a single symphony by Haydn or Beethoven that uses the English horn!" (This may well be apocryphal and used by d'Indy - who was firmly in the Franck camp - to mock the conservative Thomas, since Haydn had very famously used English horns in his own Symphony No. 22, "The Philosopher".)
Politics continued to determine the popular reaction to the symphony's first performance. Critics saw the work as a clumsy attempt at orchestral writing that departed too stridently from the classical symphonic form and harmonic rules of Haydn and Beethoven. Contemporaries, mostly allied with the conservative faction of the Société Nationale de Musique, were unsparing. The noted music critic, a close friend and voluminous correspondent of Camille Saint-Saëns, Camille Bellaigue (1858-1930) dismissed it is as "arid and drab music, without ... grace or charm," and derided the principal four-bar theme upon which the symphony expands throughout as "hardly above the level of those given to Conservatoire students." The review Le Ménestrel called it "morose.... [Franck] had very little to say here, but he proclaims it with the conviction of the pontiff defining dogma." And Charles Gounod, also making implicit reference to the idea of a dogmatic German style, wrote of it: "incompetence pushed to dogmatic lengths."
This acid political climate helps explain not only the ferocity of French nationalist reaction, but also the speed with which the symphony attained popularity where the internecine divisions of defining French music were not at issue. Thus, within several years of its composition, the symphony was regularly being programmed across Europe and in the US. It received its American premiere in Boston on January 16, 1899 under the baton of Wilhelm Gericke.

César Franck

Symphony in D minor

New Queen’s Hall Orchestra

Sir Henry Wood

1924


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