Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Happy Birthday Percy!

Today marks the 146th birthday of the little-known Anglo-German composer Percy Sherwood (1866-1939). Having languished in obscurity since the First World War, his music is now being rediscovered and two recordings have been released in the last few weeks, drawing upon sources in the Bodleian Library, which holds virtually all his surviving manuscripts.

Born in Dresden on 23rd May 1866, Sherwood’s father (John) was a university lecturer in English and his mother a singer (Auguste Koch). Percy studied piano and composition at the Dresden Conservatoire under Bertrand Roth and Felix Draeske respectively and subsequently taught there, rising to a Professorship in 1893.

He was evidently well-regarded as a pianist, composer and conductor and, during the course of his life composed five symphonies, concertos for piano, violin and cello, a significant body of chamber music and a prize-winning Requiem, along with smaller-scale piano pieces. Some of the piano and chamber music was published in Germany towards the end of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th.

Finding himself in England with his family at the outbreak of war in 1914, Sherwood was unable to return to Germany and remained in this country until his death on 15th May 1939, just a few months before the outbreak of the Second World War. The successful career he had enjoyed in pre-war Germany was not to be continued in England and he seems to have vanished almost without trace. Living in Hampstead, he devoted himself to more composing and teaching including, for a while, weekly visits to Oxford and Cambridge. However, his music – lyrical, passionate and firmly in the late-romantic tradition – was out of step with contemporary trends and performances, if any, would have been few and far between.

Sadly, not all his music has survived but virtually all the known extant manuscripts are now in the Bodleian and have attracted the attention of several scholars and performers in the last couple of years. The recent recordings are of the 2nd Piano Concerto, played by Hiroaki Takenouchi with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates ( and the complete music for cello and piano, played by Joseph Spooner and David Owen Norris (  It is to be hoped that they will begin to draw attention to a musical voice which has been silent for too long and bring to Percy Sherwood the recognition he deserves.