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CHORUS MASTER AND COMPOSER: LESLIE WOODGATE
by Philip Scowcroft
Hubert Leslie Woodgate was born on 15 April 1900 and died on 18 May 1961, when he still had much to offer. Educated at Westminster and the Royal College of Music he joined the BBC and later became its Chorus Master, his energy and outstanding attention to detail making him one of the foremost choral trainers in the country. During the 1930s he was also Musical Director to the London and North Eastern Railway Musical Society which had several (male voice) choruses scattered throughout its area which covered Eastern England and Scotland and which annually combined in London for a concert under his direction. He conducted several provincial choral societies, e.g. at Leicester, Huddersfield and Selby, and much adjudication at festivals. He appeared at the Henry Wood Proms in 1946 conducting the BBC Singers in Walton's Where does the Uttered Music Go?
Woodgate undoubtedly wrote much for the L.N.E.R. though there is probably more in his output for mixed voices than for male voices; in any case his published Opus 1, the two songs Hymn to the Virgin and The White Island which earned him a Carnegie Award in 1923, long before he went to the L.N.E.R., are even at that early date for male soloist, male choir and orchestra. Woodgate's hundreds of choral compositions, for whatever combination, include a high proportion of arrangements of folksongs, spirituals, Christmas carols and other popular material (other arrangements include settings of some of Elgar's From the Bavarian Highlands for male chorus) often as potpourris, like the Fantasia on English Melodies. Ceremonies for Christmas, Nine Sailor Songs, Songs of the Chase, Student Songs, A Stephen Foster Medley. The London Waits, Songs of Erin and Sea Shanties (all male voices and mostly with orchestra), "The Garland of Songs", The Year Round for female voices and, for mixed voices, more Student Songs and Songs of London Town. I heard the Sea Shanties recently; it is excellently strung together and still sounds well. Other major choral works by Woodgate included an oratorio Simon Peter, The Three Maries Op. 2, a Cornish Miracle Play (1924); the choral song O Pastoral Heart of England; a "fantasy in two scenes" entitled The Witch in the Clock Tower; the Six choral pictures Op. 16, entitled Marginale (1936i); two works for baritone, chorus and orchestra, Elegy and A Song of Joys (1938); (Both Marginale and A Song of Joys were premiered on the BBC with the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing the accompaniment.) and Song of the Saracens and The Sword of Olaf, both for chorus and orchestra. The Sword of Olaf was described as "stirring" when sung by the Doncaster and Peterborough L.N.E.R. societies with the Doncaster L.N.E.R. Orchestra under Woodgate's direction in Doncaster Corn Exchange on 15 December 1938 - the programme also included Ceremonies for Christmas, whose Contrast was praised and the partsong Silent Land. Woodgate also edited the Penguin Song Book and Penguin Partsong Book and wrote a book The Chorus Master. This list of choral pieces includes a few short anthems.
This brings us to his solo songs. One sometimes hears his Jubilate, arranged from a Russian source, as a unison song, or the Angelus. arranged from J.J. Rousseau. There were cycles of Three Songs as both Op 3 and 5 and a further group of three songs entitled Autumn Twilight. He bravely set Loveliest of Trees (1954) but did not oust George Butterworth's setting from favour; The Firelight Glow was a set of seven songs for children.
One associates Woodgate so much with music for the voice that it comes as something of a shock to realise that he composed, and even published, instrumental and orchestral works. The latter include transcriptions of traditional tunes, plus a Romance for full orchestra and an English Dance Suite for strings (also published for piano solo). Organ pieces included Impromptu and Pastoral Song Op. 49 and the Variations on an Old French Carol Tune, Op. 11 (1927), while his chamber music seems based, like so much of his choral output, on traditional melody. His Opus 6, for string Quartet, was the Phantasy, Song of the North while in the 1930s he brought out three sea tunes, The Arethusa, Tom Bowling and The Mermaid, for piano trio.
© Philip L Scowcroft.
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