Hugh was born in Parbold, Lancashire and grew up in a musical family. His mother had been Frank Merrick’s first piano pupil in Manchester and both his father and his elder brother were actively fond of music. After military service in Egypt, Hugh studied History at New College, Oxford, where he dedicated much of his time to music and writing compositions for the theatre. In 1954, he moved to London to study composition privately with William Lloyd Webber, Anthony Milner, Iain Hamilton, and Mátyás Seiber. He also started a parallel career as a music teacher by finding work in schools, including Morley College, and as a lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music.
In 1958 Hugh composed his first published work: a set of variations for viola and piano showing the influence of Schoenberg and thematic references to Beethoven, which was premiered by Cecil Aronowitz. His first orchestral work, Scenes from Comus (with soloists and chorus), was commissioned by the BBC and composed between 1962 and 1965. Its premiere at the 1965 BBC Proms provided him with a public success. Hugh liked to compose slowly and he typically preferred chamber music genres, though several of his large-scale works, such as his Symphony and Violin Concerto, are amongst his best known.
Hugh taught music at the universities of Glasgow (1966-70), Leeds (1975-6), Liverpool (1971-5) and finally Cambridge where he was appointed University Lecturer and became a Fellow and Director of Studies in Music here at Churchill College in 1977. At both his retirement, in 1999, and his 80th birthday celebration (featuring a performance for a group of cellos by past students), the affection and respect of those he taught and guided during their time at the College was clear.
In his later years Hugh contributed several articles on music to The Times Literary Supplement. In 2007 his collected writings on music, Staking Out the Territory was published by Plumbago Books and the following year Ashgate Books published The Music of Hugh Wood by Edward Venn.
Speaking of his death, the Royal Philharmonic Society said “A master craftsman, his music blazes, even in its darkness, and deserves more than ever now to be heard by far more people.”
An online book of condolences for Hugh is available here.
Photo of Hugh Wood by Jonas Persson