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Composers

Amy Woodforde-Finden

(1860- 1919)

Amy Woodforde-Finden (1860-1919), née Ward, was an English composer born in 1860. She was the youngest of Alfred and Virginia Worthington Heath Ward’s nine children, and began life in Valparaís, Chile, where her father was serving as British Consul. Woodforde-Finden developed an affinity for music at an early age and, after her father’s death and the family’s relocation to London, began composition studies with Carl Schloesser and Amy Horrocks. Throughout her career, Woodforde-Finden made her mark as a composer of the Edwardian ‘exotic’, setting texts from all over the world, most notably, India. However, despite the successful publication and performance of her works during her lifetime, little is known of her music today.

Woodforde-Finden’s early songs were published under the name Amy Ward and included ‘A Night in June’ (1896, Alfred Austin) and ‘O Flower of all the World’ (1897, Gilbert Parker). They adhered to late Victorian sentimentality but received limited public recognition. It was not until after 1894, the year in which she married Colonel Woodforde-Finden, and moved to live for several years in India whilst he worked as a brigadier and surgeon in the Indian Army, that her career as a composer took shape.

The couple returned to England within a few years, but the period abroad inspired Woodforde-Finden significantly, leading her to write her most famous work, the Four Indian Love Lyrics (1902, texts by Laurence Hope, the pseudonym of Adele Florence Nicholson, 1894-1902). Though described by Sophie Fuller as ‘the most successful songs of the early 20th century’, the set was initially rejected by every publisher Woodforde-Finden approached. However, she was not discouraged and self-published the songs in 1902. Renowned singer Hamilton Earle soon began to include the songs in his regular concert performances. Demand grew rapidly as the set circulated, appealing to the Edwardian British exoticisation of the East. This led to a reissue in 1903 by Boosey & Co., and subsequent arrangements for piano, violin and piano, small orchestra, military band, and various vocal combinations. Of the four songs, III. ‘Kashmiri Song’, which opens with a pentatonic motif, has achieved the greatest long-standing acclaim, and remains Woodforde-Finden’s most performed work.

Having established her reputation as a composer, Woodforde-Finden spent the next decade setting texts almost exclusively derived from India, the Middle East, North Africa, and Japan. A Lover in Damascus (1904, setting six poems by Charles Hanson Towne), On Jhelum River (1905, setting six texts by Frederick John Fraser), The Pagoda of Flowers (1907, also setting poems by Frederick John Fraser) and A Dream of Egypt (1910, texts by Charles Hanson Towne) are notable examples. She also attempted to follow up her first successful set of Adele Florence Nicholson poems with four more, the Stars of the Desert (1911), subtitled ‘Four More Indian Love Lyrics’. But they did not receive parable popularity to the first group. Woodforde-Finden subsequently expanded her geographical interests to include texts from South America, setting Harold Simpson’s Three Little Mexican Songs (1912) and Little Cactus Flower (1913).

In 1916, the second of Woodforde-Finden’s Four Indian Love Lyrics, ‘Less Than the Dust’, featured in Hector Turnbull’s film of the same name starring Mary Pickford. Though the film failed to captivate contemporary audiences, the inclusion of Woodforde-Finden’s song acknowledges her ability to evoke the colonial exotic through her choice of texts, harmonic language, and fluid ‘raga-like’ melodies.

© Rachel Howe, 2022

Related Songs

Composed Title
Kashmiri Song
Till I wake

Worked with the following poets texts