Academy at BBC Proms 2014

-Posted on 25.04.2014

At 2pm on Thursday 24th April the BBC Proms announced their 2014 season, ahead of a formal launch in the Duke’s Hall at the Academy.

Academy alumni performing in the 2014 Proms will include Mary Bevan, Allan Clayton, Edward Gardner, Benjamin Grosvenor, Sir Simon Rattle, Ilan Volkov and Mark Wigglesworth, along with countless orchestral players.

Featured Academy professors include Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Semyon Bychkov, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Sian Edwards, David Hill, Daniel Hope, Tasmin Little, Rachel Podger and Richard Watkins.

As always, the bust of the Sir Henry Wood — Academy student and professor and founder of the Promenade Concerts in 1895 — will travel from the Academy to the Royal Albert Hall for the full season. 

The Academy will also be represented by Lecturer Hannah French, whose reconstruction of Wood’s ‘New War Hymn’ performed on Sunday 3rd August alongside Academy alumnus Gareth Malone and his Military Wives Choir.

Hannah French explains how Wood’s ‘New War Hymn’ is to feature at the 2014 Proms, 100 years after its composition:

Reconstructing Sir Henry J. Wood’s ‘New War Hymn’

After the outbreak of War in 1914, Wood made orchestral arrangements of many national songs and anthems from the allied nations; they were performed in every Promenade Concert that season at the Queen’s Hall. Although most of these are now lost, last autumn I came across an autograph manuscript of Wood’s ‘New War Hymn’ in the Academy library. Written and orchestrated by Wood, the hymn is set to the six verses of ‘O God, the strength of those who war’ by the Right Reverend William Boyd-Carpenter (1841–1918), and responds to the recent deployment of troops in Belgium and northern France. Wood only sketched out his orchestration, which is dated 7 October 1914; the full realization of his hymn was to be completed by a scribe. A note on the front cover requests that the finished work should be sent to his London home: ‘Parts and score to be delivered at 4 Elsworthy Road by 12 noon on Friday October 9th H.J.W’. This final score and its accompanying parts have not survived. Using Wood’s manuscript directions, I have reconstructed the score which will be adapted for performance at this year’s Proms.

The premiere of the hymn remains a mystery – and there is a chance that it was never performed. One possibility is that it was inserted informally into the Prom season, likely during one of the ‘popular’ Saturday night programmes. However, the date of completion suggests another theory. On the afternoon of Saturday 10 October 1914 Wood and the Queen’s Hall Orchestra took part in a ‘patriotic concert’ at the Royal Albert Hall – prior to the evening Prom at the Queen’s Hall. Whilst this was just one day after the final score and parts were completed, short rehearsal time was common-place for concert-giving at the time. The event, organized and performed by husband-and-wife team, contralto Clara Butt and baritone Kennerley Rumford, was ‘devoted to the interests of the Queen’s Work for Women Fund’. It was the first performance of a nationwide tour of patriotic benefit concerts showcasing British composers and musicians including Edward Elgar and Charles Stanford. Whilst records confirm that the tour featured William Croft’s hymn ‘O God our help in Ages Past’ (orchestrated by Wood that same week), the New War Hymn is not mentioned in contemporary reviews. However, it may have appeared amongst other similar works at the gala event at the Royal Albert Hall on 10 October, or have been included in the programmes on tour. A review of the opening concert in The Times (12 October 1914) reported:

The Albert Hall was packed […] The Royal Choral Society and the Queen’s Hall Orchestra took important shares in the programme and were conducted by Sir Frederick Bridge, Sir Frederic Cowen, Sir Edward Elgar, Mr. Landon Ronald, Sir Charles Stanford, and Sir Henry Wood, all of whom gave their services, and many of whom were represented by compositions of various kinds. But though the kinds were various, songs, choruses etc. the theme was the same, from the National Anthems of the Allies at one end to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the other. What else could it be? It could be a deeper patriotism and a nobler art than most of our song-writers dare to express or our people are able to comprehend at present. […] everything was a success. About half the songs […] were encored and the audience would willingly have encored the other half.

Wood sets Boyd-Carpenter’s common metre (8.6.8.6.) text to a simple, diatonic melody (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Jeremiah Clarke’s hymn melody St Magnus). Although he varies both the instrumentation and tessitura of the orchestral accompaniment in response to the words, the harmonization of the hymn tune remains the same throughout. Whether a prayer for guidance and peace, or an expression of nationalistic fervour, the hymn is a fascinating musical document which captures Wood’s personal response to the outbreak of the First World War.

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Hannah’s reconstruction of the ‘New War Hymn’ will feature in the War Horse Prom at 4.30pm on Sunday 3rd August. ‘"This is going to be the first modern performance, indeed there is a possibility that it might be the first performance itself,’ said Proms director and BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright.

See the original manuscript by Henry Wood, used by Hannah for this project, on display in the Academy Museum’s new exhibition: ‘War Music: Notes on the First World War’. Marking the First World War Centenary, this new exhibition takes a broad look at the relationship between music and war against the background of radical musical change. 


O God, the Strength of those who war, 
The Hope of those who wait,
Be with our sons gone forth to fight,
And those who keep the gate.

We drew the sword to keep our troth
Free from dishonour’s stain.
Make strong our hands to shield the weak
And their just cause maintain.

Give to our hosts in battle’s hour
Firm hearts and courage high,
Thy comfort give to those who fall,
Thy peace to those who die.

Breathe on our land the spirit calm
Which faith in right bestows,
And in the hours of dark suspense
A faith which stronger grows.

 In Thee alone we place our hope,
Thou Keeper of the just,
And Thou, through fight and fire and fears
Wilt justify our trust.

Thy ways are wonderful, O God,
Who makest wars to cease:
O let this be the final war
That ushers in Thy peace.

Photo: Hannah French with the manuscript in the Academy’s Museum.

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