Wood’s fame lies mainly with the promenade concerts, but he was active in many areas of musical life.
Sir Henry Joseph Wood, was an English conductor, forever associated with The Proms which he conducted for half a century. Founded in 1895, they became known after his death as the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts” and are 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. 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.
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. He was knighted in 1911 and appointed a Companion of Honour in the 1944 King’s Birthday Honours, just a couple of months before his death on 19 August 1944.