Sir Henry Joseph Wood was one of the most important British conductors.
Both parents were music lovers, and furthered his development. His mother taught him piano. Soon he was appearing at family music making, and developed rapidly as an organist. At age ten he was able to begin substituting for local organists. He also learned violin and piano. In 1883 he played organ recitals at a Fisheries Exhibition and in 1885 at the Inventions Exhibition. He entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1886. He won four gold medals there during his two-year stay. In 1888 he published some original songs, and began composing light operas and cantatas. His composing led him to make a debut as a conductor in 1888, where his skills were immediately evident. During this period he also started giving singing lessons, and kept giving for the rest of his career, long after there was a financial necessity to do so.
His conducting career developed in the theater, including opera, musical comedy, and work with touring companies. At the suggestion of the manager of the new Queen's Hall, Wood began the Promenade Concerts on August 10, 1895. The Proms, as they have been called ever since, were so successful that on January 30, 1897, he inaugurated a regular symphonic subscription series, which was also a success.
Few conductors have been so tightly associated with a musical organization or series, for such a long time, as Wood was with the Proms. He remained in sole charge of them until 1940. Except for a brief period in 1912 when he conducted at the Birmingham Festival during Proms season, Wood conducted every performance on every concert, except for occasions when he had composers leading their own music.
The Proms were always alert to new music, and played Strauss, Sibelius, Debussy, Scriabin, and Bartók while the ink was scarcely dry on the scores. In 1912 Wood introduced Arnold Schoenberg's radical new Five Pieces for Orchestra. The orchestra members were thoroughly puzzled by the music. Wood urged them on with a prescient remark: "Stick to it, gentlemen," he said, "This is nothing to what you'll have to play in twenty-five years' time." In 1927 Wood's own orchestra was replaced by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
In 1940 he engaged Basil Cameron as his assistant at the Proms and relinquished a share of the performances. In May 1941 Queen's Hall was destroyed by German bombs. The Proms were moved to Royal Albert Hall, where they have remained since, save for a wartime relocation for a season to Bedford, as broadcast events only, in 1944, due to the threat of buzz bombs and V-2 missiles. In 1942 Adrian Boult was engaged as Proms associate conductor. In that year also, the BBC SO started sharing the concerts.
Wood gave his last Proms performance on July 28, 1944, less than a month before his death. The Proms are now officially the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, and remain as one of the strongest of British musical traditions.