Charles Wood (composer)

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Charles Wood

Charles Wood (15 June 1866 – 12 July 1926) was an Irish composer and teacher; his students included Ralph Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. He is primarily remembered and performed as an Anglican church music composer, but he also wrote songs and chamber music, particularly for string quartet.


Born in Vicars' Hill in the Cathedral precincts of Armagh, Ireland, Charles was the fifth child and third son of Charles Wood Sr. and Jemima Wood. The boy was a treble chorister in the choir of the nearby St. Patrick's Cathedral (Church of Ireland). His father sang tenor as a stipendiary 'Gentleman' or 'Lay Vicar Choral' in the Cathedral choir and was also the Diocesan Registrar of the church. He was a cousin of Irish composer Ina Boyle.

Wood received his early education at the Cathedral Choir School and also studied organ with two organists and masters of the Boys of Armagh Cathedral, Robert Turle and his successor Dr 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 their 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 in 1924, Wood assumed his mentor's vacant role as professor of music at the University of Cambridge.

Like his better-known colleague 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 lesser-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.

He married Charlotte Georgina Wills-Sandford, daughter of William Robert Wills-Sandford, of Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland, on 17 March 1898. They had two sons and three daughters, including Lieutenant Patrick Bryan Sandford Wood R.A.F. (1899-1918), who was killed in an aircraft accident during the First World War and is buried at Taranto, Italy.[2][3]

He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge,[4] together with his wife. There is a memorial to him in the north aisle at St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh.[5]

List of works[edit]


  • Ian Copley: The Music of Charles Wood: A Critical Study (London: Thames Publishing, 1978), ISBN 0-905210-07-7
  • Ian Copley: "Charles Wood, 1886–1926", in The Musical Times, vol. 107 (1966) no. 1480, pp. 489–492.
  • "Charles Wood", in The Musical Times, vol. 67 (1926) no. 1002, pp. 696–697.
  • Margaret Hayes Nosek: "Wood: A Personal Memoir", in The Musical Times, vol. 107 (1966) no. 1480, pp. 492–493.
  • Royal School of Church Music (ed.): English Church Music (Croydon, UK: Royal School of Church Music, 1963).
  • Nicholas Temperley (ed.): The Athlone History of Music in Britain, vol. 5: The Romantic Age, 1800–1914 (London: The Athlone Press, 1981).
  • Geoffrey Webber: "An 'English' Passion", in The Musical Times, vol. 133, no. 1790 (April 1992), pp. 202–203.


  1. ^ "Wood, Charles (WT888C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Andrew Johnstone, Charles Wood (Dictionary of Irish Biography), 2009.
  3. ^ Ina Boyle Society Limited, Ina Boyle and World War One, 25 August 2015.
  4. ^ A Guide to Churchill College, Cambridge: text by Dr. Mark Goldie, pages 62 and 63 (2009)
  5. ^ "Funary Monuments & Memorials in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh" Curl, J.S. pp52-53: Whitstable; Historical Publications; 2013 ISBN 978-1-905286-48-5
  6. ^ "The Prize Grace". wcomarchive. Retrieved 25 June 2021.

External links[edit]