2017-01-15 Notes from the Bench


“Expectans expectavi” Charles Wood

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate



This sanctuary of my soul,
Unwitting I keep white and whole,
Unlatch’d and lit, if Thou should’st care
To enter or to tarry there.
With parted lips and outstretch’d hands,
And list’ning ears Thy servant stands.
Call Thou early, call Thou late,
to Thy great service dedicate.
My soul, keep white, and whole.



Charles Wood (1866-1926), an Irish composer and teacher, wrote music in a variety of genres: orchestral and chamber music, piano and organ music, secular vocal works, and cantatas. However, Wood is best remembered for his Anglican Church music; he composed a number of sacred anthems and service music settings. Today, his sacred music is frequently performed in liturgical and concert settings, a staple of Anglican choirs around the world.

Wood was an inaugural member of the Royal College of Music in 1883 where he studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Stanford would become Wood’s life-long mentor. After four years of training at the Royal College, he continued his educational pursuits at Selwyn College in Cambridge. Wood later taught harmony and counterpoint at this institution. Wood held other teaching positions at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge and in 1924, following Stanford’s death, he assumed his mentor’s vacant position at the University of Cambridge as Professor of Music. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells are among the well-known English composers who studied with Wood. Many of Charles Wood’s compositions are written in a late-romantic era style; he often utilized the type of harmonic language that was common with many of his contemporaries, which was occasionally contrasted with the employment of modality, to set carefully chosen texts with warmth and richness of emotional expression that demonstrate his craftsmanship as a composer.

The text, “Expectans expectavi” (I waited patiently) alludes to Psalm 40, and is from a poem by the Scottish poet, Charles Hamilton Sorely (1895-1915). Sorely fought for the British army during World War I on the Western Front in France and was killed by a sniper during the final offensive of the Battle of Loos. Charles Hamilton Sorely’s father, William Ritchie Sorely, was a professor at the University of Cambridge and friend of Charles Wood’s. Wood also lost his son in battle during World War I. The poem, “Expectans expectavi” was recovered from Sorely’s kitbag. Charles Wood set the last two stanzas of this poem to music in 1919, a truly moving tribute in music.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: