William Brooker (British, 1918-1983) Sir Henry Wood conducting

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Lot 181AR
William Brooker
(British, 1918-1983)
Sir Henry Wood conducting

Sold for £ 4,375 (US$ 5,469) inc. premium
William Brooker (British, 1918-1983)
Sir Henry Wood conducting
signed and dated 'Brooker 59' (lower left)
oil on board
123.5 x 62.5cm (48 5/8 x 24 5/8in).


  • Provenance
    With Arthur Tooth & Sons where purchased by the late husband of the present owner

    London, Arthur Tooth and Sons Ltd, William Brooker Paintings 1952-1968, no.11

    Henry Wood (1869-1944) is recognised as Britain's finest conductor, most famously remembered for his development of the Proms, which are fully titled the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in recognition of his contribution. Orchestral music had always been considered an expensive and inaccessible interest - Wood made it his life's work to bring music to the people of Britain. From an early age, he showed considerable musical talent, playing the piano, organ, violin and viola to a good standard by the age of ten. At this age, he would also have his first paid performance, playing the organ at St Mary Aldenbury. His love of music would see him enrol at the Royal Academy of Music at the age of seventeen, upon graduating he pursued his ambition of teaching singing, and soon found himself répétiteur for various opera companies.

    Wood continued his coaching work in opera, but gradually developed his interest in conducting. He commanded his first choral performance in 1887, eventually taking up a full-time role as conductor for the Carl Rosa Opera Company in 1891. It is from this position that he increased his profile as a conductor, being invited to perform the British premiere of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Olympic Theatre, London, 1892. He was subsequently invited to be chorus master for a series of Wagner concerts at the newly built Queen's Hall, London. In this position, he impressed the manager of the hall, Robert Newman, who was at the time proposing a ten-week promenade concert programme as a continuation of those which had been running in London since 1838. He aimed to make this a series of affordable concerts designed to develop the taste of the listening public with early concerts of popular music gradually evolving into concerts more focussed around classical and modern pieces. He invited Wood to conduct the programme in 1894 and thus began Wood's relationship with the Proms which would last the rest of his life.

    His career would develop as conductor of the Queen's Hall Orchestra and the success of the Proms was clear with sell out shows and rave reviews. His celebrity grew and in 1897 he was invited to perform for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, at which occasion she questioned his nationality as no Englishman had been known to conduct Wagner and Tchaikovsky with such success. He took this as quite the compliment as he did model his appearance on the Hungarian conductor Nikisch. In 1905 he composed the work for which he most celebrated, Fantasia on British Sea Songs, designed as a celebration of the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. This song is still a cornerstone piece played at the Last Night of the Proms every year. For his contribution to music he received a knighthood in 1911.

    Not only was he active in bringing the world's music to the Great British public, he also took pride in playing British compositions whilst travelling to conduct all over the world. And although tempted, he refused job offers from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra – in his opinion, the finest in the world – as he believed that it was his duty to bring music to Britain. He insisted on keeping his musical performances going, including the Proms, through both the First and Second World Wars, with performances often being re-timed to coincide with the 'All Clear' between air raids.

    His biographer Arthur Jacobs wrote:

    His orchestral players affectionately nicknamed him "Timber" – more than a play on his name, since it seemed to represent his reliability too. His tally of first performances, or first performances in Britain, was heroic: at least 717 works by 357 composers. Greatness as measured by finesse of execution may not be his, particularly in his limited legacy of recordings, but he remains one of the most remarkable musicians Britain has produced.
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