What could be more quintessentially English than the Last Night of the Proms? As the 2013 season draws to a close with the traditional crescendo this Saturday, 7 September, let’s give a thought to the former Primrose Hill resident whose name is synonymous with the Proms: Sir Henry Wood.
From 1905 until 1937, Wood lived at 4 Elsworthy Road, and is commemorated there with a Blue Plaque.
From the inaugural season in 1895, until very close to the end of his life in 1944, Wood conducted the annual Proms season almost single-handedly.
For most of those years, the Proms were held at Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, prized as a concert venue for its wonderful acoustics, despite its cramped seating. The Hall was devastated by Nazi bombing in 1941, and St George’s Hotel, a post-war building, now stands in its place beside All Souls’ Church, at the top of Regent Street.
However, the Proms quickly found a very satisfactory – and much larger – new home at the Royal Albert Hall, where they have continued uninterrupted ever since.
Wood had an evangelistic approach to classical music, committed as he was to bringing it to the broadest audience possible, and to encouraging new composers. He conducted and exerted his influence widely, and was offered the conductorships of the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestras. These he turned down, in order to concentrate on bringing classical music to the British public.
Affectionately known as ‘Old Timber’, he is held dear to all those who continue to enjoy the Proms. His nautical arrangement, Fantasia on British Sea Songs, remains a highlight of the Last Night, having first been played in 1905 to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
The 1944 season was to be Wood’s last; ill-health overwhelmed him, and he was unable to conduct the 50th anniversary promenade concert on August 10 of that year. His doctors even forbade him from listening to it on the radio. He passed away on August 19.
Wood’s bust is displayed at the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms season, and on the Last Night, in commemoration, it is decorated with a laurel wreath.
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