3rd March 1869. The Proms.
Henry (‘Timber’) Wood was a British composer who had learned his trade as the conductor of a travelling opera company, and was instrumental in ending the system whereby players freely sent deputies to do their work.
Wood was born today in 1869, and best remembered for being the father figure of The ‘Proms’ at a time of High Imperialism which unashamed musical tone has continued down the years.
It was a time of the Laureate of Empire Edward Elgar, whose Enigma Variations, first performed in 1899, was a time of patriotism and and sentimental ballads, a move away from the High Victorian satirical works of Gilbert &Sullivan, towards the lighter musical comedy of Lionel Monckton.
However the Proms might never have happened but for the inspiration of impresario Robert Newman who had the initial idea and importantly, finance.
It was on 6th October 1895 that Newman engaged Wood then 26 to be the first conductor of a series of promenade concerts at London’s newly-built Queen’s Hall, where Newman was manager, with his Queen’s Hall Orchestra.
However in 1901 Newman’s finance ran out and the financier Sir Edgar Speyer stepped in to fund the Proms until 1914.
Another important influence was Dr. George Cathcart, the throat consultant, who financed the Proms, but on condition that a lower pitch be adopted-as was the case in Europe-the problem being that instruments here were high-pitched at the time.
The idea of popular concerts had been around for some time, going back to the Monday to Saturday ‘Pops’ (Monday Pops), introduced by Arthur Chappell, at St. James’ Hall, London, from 1858-98, who also instigated regular performances in poor areas via the People’s Concert Society from 1878-1935.
The BBC has sponsored the Proms since 1927 when Music Publisher, Chappell & Co pulled out, and any fears of conductor, Thomas Beecham’s, that people would not budge from their radios were confounded, by the mad rush for tickets for the BBC’s first venture, at the Queen’s Hall.
Then The Illustrated London News Correspondent said that the BBC should finance its own permanent symphony orchestra in London, for in general ‘our orchestras at present muddle through as best they can’. This which was realised in January 1929 and the orchestra has been the Prom’s mainstay ever since.
The bombing of the Queen’s Hall, near to Broadcasting House, in 1941, and from where the first Prom was televised in August 1938, didn’t end the concerts, as a new home was found at the Albert Hall, (opened by Queen Victoria in 1871).
These continued with Wood as conductor until the year of his death in 1944, when they became the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, and set to become part of the musical calendar ever since.
Ref: wikipedia.org/queen’s_hall/Pic image.