Charles Wood (composer)

Charles Wood (composer)

Charles Wood (15 June 1866 – 12 July 1926) was an Irish composer and teacher.

Born in Armagh, Ireland, he was the fifth child and third son of Charles Wood Sr. and Jemima Wood. His father was a tenor in the choir of the nearby St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh (Church of Ireland), and later worked as the Diocesan Registrar of the church. He was a cousin of Irish composer Ina Boyle.

From around 1872 to 1883, Wood received his early education at the Armagh Cathedral Church School, in particular studying organ with Robert Turle and Thomas Marks. In 1883 he became one of fifty inaugural class members of the Royal College of Music, studying composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry primarily, and horn and piano secondarily. Following four years of training, he continued his studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge through 1889,[1] where he began teaching harmony and counterpoint. In 1889 he attained a teaching position at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, first as organ scholar and then as fellow in 1894, becoming the first Director of Music and Organist. He was instrumental in the reflowering of music at the college, though more as a teacher and organiser of musical events than as composer. After Stanford died, Wood assumed his mentor's vacant role as University of Cambridge Professor of Music in 1924.

Like his better-known colleague, Charles Villiers Stanford, Wood is chiefly remembered for his Anglican church music. As well as his Communion Service in the Phrygian Mode, his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are still popular with cathedral and parish church choirs, particularly the services in F, D, and G, and the two settings in E flat; during Passiontide his St Mark Passion is sometimes performed, and demonstrates Wood's interest in modal composition, in contrast to the late romantic harmonic style he more usually employs.

Wood's anthems with organ, Expectans expectavi, and O Thou, the Central Orb are both frequently performed and recorded; as are his unaccompanied anthems Tis the day of Resurrection, Glory and Honour and, most popular of all, Hail, gladdening light and its lessser-known equivalent for men's voices, Great Lord of Lords. All Wood's a cappella music demonstrates fastidious craftsmanship and a supreme mastery of the genre, and he is no less resourceful in his accompanied choral works which sometimes include unison sections and have stirring organ accompaniments, conveying a satisfying warmth and richness of emotional expression appropriate to his carefully chosen texts.

Wood collaborated with priest and poet George Ratcliffe Woodward in the revival and popularisation of renaissance tunes to new English religious texts, notably co-editing three books of carols. He also wrote eight string quartets, and was co-founder (in 1904) of the Irish Folk Song Society.

His pupils included Ralph Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music.


List of works

Chamber music

String quartets

  • No. 1 in D minor (1885)
  • No. 2 in E flat major, 'Highgate' (1892)
  • No. 3 in A minor (1911/12?)
  • No. 4 in E flat major, 'Harrogate' (1912)
  • No. 5 in F major (1914/15?)
  • No. 6 in D major (1915/16?)

Solo instruments


  • Variations and fugue on 'Winchester Old' (1907/8)
  • Three preludes on melodies from the Genevan Psalter (1907/8)
  • Sixteen preludes on melodies from the English and Scottish Psalters (1911/12)
  • Suite in the Ancient Style (1915?)


The Choristers' March


  • Ode to the West Wind, for tenor solo, mixed chorus and orchestra, Op.3 (1889?)
  • Music — an ode for soprano solo, mixed chorus and orchestra (1892/3)
  • A ballade of Dundee for bass solo, mixed chorus and orchestra (1904?)
  • Eden Spirits for female voices and piano (1915?)

Sacred works

  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis Collegium Regale in F (SATB double choir + organ)
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in D (SATB+organ)
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in G (SATB+organ)
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in E flat (SATB+organ)
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in E flat 'no. 2' (posthumous) (SATB+organ)
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in E (ATB double choir)
  • Communion setting 'in the Phrygian mode'
  • St Mark Passion
  • Glorious And Powerful God
  • Hail, gladdening Light (SATB double choir)
  • Once He came in blessing (SATB double choir and T solo)
  • Father, all-holy (SATB double choir)
  • O King most high (SATB double choir)
  • Glory and honour (SATB double choir)
  • Great Lord of Lords (ATB double choir)
  • Oculi Omnium (SATB choir)
  • Haec Dies (SSATBB choir)
  • Expectans expectavi (SATB+organ)
  • O Thou, the central orb (SATB+organ)

Smaller secular vocal works


  • If love be dead for SSATB (1886?)
  • Slow, slow fresh fount for SSATB (1888)
  • The bag of the bee for SSATB (1895-1925?)

Part Songs

Mixed Voices

(Scoring for SATB unless noted otherwise)

  • How sweet the moonlight sleeps for SSATB (1887/8?)
  • Blow, blow thou winter wind (1888?)
  • The Hemlock Tree (1890/1?)
  • Full fathom five (1890/1?)
  • It was a lover (1892/3?)
  • Wanderer's night song (1892/3)
  • The widow bird (1895/6?)
  • A land dirge (1898?)
  • The countryman (1898?)
  • A century's penultimate for SSATBB (1899)
  • Nights of music (1899?)
  • As the moon's soft splendour (1905?)
  • The whispering waves (1905?)
  • I call and I call for SSATB (1905?)
  • How sweet the tuneful bells (1906)
  • Come sleep (1908?)
  • When whispering strains for SSATB (1908?)
  • Fain would I change (1908?)
  • Music, when soft voices die (1908?)
  • Haymakers, rakers (1908?)
  • Time (1914)
  • Awake, awake (1914?)
  • Love, what wilt thou (1921?)
  • Follow, follow (1922?)
  • Shepherd's Sunday song (1923?)
  • Spring song (1923?)
  • Autumn (1924?)
  • Wassail (1925?)
  • Lullaby (pub. 1927)
  • The Lamb (pub. 1927)
  • Down in yon summer vale, original for male voices (pub. 1927)
  • Hence away, begone (pub. 1929)
  • The solitary reaper (pub. 1930)
  • Rose-cheeked Laura (pub. 1931)
  • When to her lute (pub. 1933)
  • Spring time (pub. 1937)
Male voices
  • It was a lover for ATTB (1892/3?)
  • It was an English ladye bright for baritone solo and TTBB (1899)
  • Down in yon summer vale for TTBB (1901?)
  • There comes a new moon for ATTB (1907/8?)
  • When winds that move not for ATTB (1912/13?)
  • The Russian lover for TTBB (1921/2?)
  • Paty O'Toole for TTBB (1922)
  • There be none of beauty's daughters for ATTB (1926)
  • A clear midnight for TTBB (pub. 1926)
  • When thou art nigh for TTBB (pub. 1927)
  • Neptune's empire for TBB (pub. 1927)
  • Robin Hood for TBB (pub. 1927)
  • Carmen Caianum for unison men (1891/2?)
Female voices
  • The nymph's faun for SSAA (1908?)
  • Echo for SSA and piano (1908/9?)
  • Cowslips for her covering for SSAA and piano (1912/13?)
  • Good precepts for SSA and piano (1912/13?)
  • Music when soft voices die for SSA and piano (1914/15?)
  • Sunlight all golden for SSSS and piano (1918)
  • The starlings for SSA (1918/19?)
  • Lilies for SSA (1918/19?)
  • Golden slumbers for SSSS (1919/20?)
  • To music bent for SSA and piano or two violins (1920/1?)
  • To welcome in the year for SSA (1923/24?)
  • The blossom for SSA (pub. 1926)
  • What is a day for SSA and piano (pub. 1927.)

Solo songs

  • Irish Folk Songs (pub. 1897)
  • Irish County Songs
    • Volume I (pub. 1914)
    • Volume II (pub. 1927)
    • Volume III (pub. 1928)
  • Anglo-Irish Folk Songs Volume I (pub. 1931)

Charles Wood's skill in setting poetry to music is well-known to baritones in his setting of Walt Whitman's poem "Ethiopia Saluting the Colours" where he captures the mood of the American Civil War and the relationship between the black people forced into slavery and their deliverance by an unknown soldier bemused by the whole situation. Who is this woman and what is she doing here? She, in turn, knows little more than a brief summary of her life and therefore can add little to the soldier's questions.



  1. ^ Wood, Charles in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  • Copley, Ian. The music of Charles Wood: a critical study. London: Thames Publishing, 1978. ISBN 0-905210-07-7
  • Copley, Ian. "Charles Wood, 1886-1926." Musical Times, Vol. 107 (1966) No. 1480, 489-492.
  • "Charles Wood." Musical Times, Vol. 67 (1926) No. 1002, 696-697.
  • Nosek, Margaret Hayes. "Wood: A Personal Memoir." Musical Times, Vol. 107 (1966) No. 1480, 492-493.
  • Royal School of Church Music (London, England). English church music. Croydon, UK: Royal School of Church Music, 1963.
  • Ed. Temperley, Nicholas. The Athlone History of Music in Britain: Vol. 5 The Romantic Age, 1800-1914. London: The Athlone Press, 1981.
  • Webber, Geoffrey. "An 'English' Passion" Musical Times Vol. 133, No. 1790 (April, 1992), 202-203.
  • Opera Glass

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