William Brocklesby Wordsworth was born in London on 17th December 1908. He was a great great grandson of Christopher Wordsworth, brother of the famous poet William Wordsworth. With a similar love of nature, the composer was to find his home not in the poet’s Lake District but in the Scottish Highlands instead.
His musical talent was noticed as he became a teenager and he was to study under the composer and organist George Oldroyd in Croydon.
This led to Wordsworth’s first move to Scotland in 1934. He went to the capital to study under Donald Tovey at Edinburgh University. He studied there for 3 years but did not obtain a degree. Tovey was to make an impact on him and he dedicated his second symphony to him.
Before the Second World War he moved back to England. Wordsworth was a pacifist associated with the Peace Pledge Union and was secretary of the Hindhead Fellowship of Reconciliation Group. As the war drew nearer Wordsworth began work on the land, anticipating that he would be a conscientious objector. When his case came to trial this was made a condition of his exemption to military service.
He became concerned with the number of broadcasts his work was to receive by the BBC in London. He wrote to Richard Howgill, the Music Controller in 1957 : I am quite convinced that I have something to say, and an individual way of saying it which the ordinary music-lover is capable is responding to if he is given sufficient opportunities. I would not go through the labour of creation were I not so convinced.’
With the appointment of William Glock as Music Controller in 1959 the BBC changed direction again and began to champion avante garde composers instead. This did not further Wordsworth any more than before as his work was largely tonal and romantic in style.
In Spring 1961 he made the trip to the Soviet Union with the composer Thea Musgrave as a tour. Invited by Union of Soviet Composers of Moscow they were to meet Shostakovich and Khachaturian.
In the same year he moved to Scotland permanently, this time to Kincraig in Speyside. The stunning view to the mountains above Glen Feshie from his house was said to inspire him.
He was to suggest that the move to Scotland made his composing clearer and more direct : ‘I have always had joy in the grander aspects of Nature – mountains, storms, spacious views, and in the ever-changing colours of the Scottish Highlands. I cannot say if there has been any change in my style of writing since we came to live in Scotland, but I would like to think that it is becoming clearer and less complicated, more direct in its expression. In fact all the things it should not be, if one wants to be successful in the present musical fashions.’
In 1965 he was appointed representative of the Composer’s Guild in Scotland, and in 1966 with Robert Crawford he was helped found the Scottish Composers Guild. He was chairman of this body till 1970 and during this time became friends with many other Scottish composers.
He was to write 6 string quartets, many chamber works and 8 symphonies, the last No. 8 ‘Pax Hominibus’, Op.117 written in 1986. It was commissioned by BBC Scotland and dedicated to his friend and fellow composer Martin Dalby for helping him recover after a heart attack. It was premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Stirling on the 28th October of that year.
It was to be his last completed work. He died on the 10th March 1988 at Kingussie.