Guy Anthony Woolfenden (1937-2016) was born in Ipswich on 12 July 1937 to Kathleen (née Groom) and Harold Woolfenden, who worked in the music business and latterly owned the Cambridge Music Shop. Between 1947 and 1951 Woolfenden attended the Westminster Abbey Choir School, singing at the marriage ceremony of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten in November 1947, and later became Senior Chorister. At fourteen he moved to Whitgift School, Croydon, where he began playing the French horn, and was selected to join the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Woolfenden was awarded a choral scholarship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he read Music from 1956-1959. As a postgraduate, he was received a Mitchell scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD), London, where he studied conducting, piano and French horn.
Following his graduation from GSMD, Woolfenden spent a year as a horn player with Sadler’s Wells Opera. In 1961 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) as Assistant Music Director, working alongside the RSC Music Director Brian Priestman. Woolfenden succeeded Priestman as Music Director in 1963-64, overseeing all matters relating to music (and sound, until the formation of the RSC’s Sound Department) across the RSC’s operations, and, in his own words, he worked as the company’s ‘resident composer’, composing music for all productions staged at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1964 and most of those staged at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in the same year. Following the negotiation of a new contract with the RSC in 1975 Woolfenden held the position of Head of Music, retaining the responsibilities he had acquired as Music Director, and continued to compose music for the company. This arrangement remained in place until Woolfenden’s retirement in 1998. As Head of Music Woolfenden was responsible for introducing new composers to the RSC, including Stephen Oliver, Ilona Sekacz, Jeremy Sams, and Edward Gregson. From 1961 Woolfenden led the Royal Shakespeare Wind Band (also known as the Royal Shakespeare Wind Ensemble). He was an RSC Associate Artist from 1968 and, following his retirement, an Honorary Associate Artist.
Between 1961 and 1998 Woolfenden composed approximately 150 scores for RSC productions, writing music for all of William Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a number of Greek, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Restoration, modern and contemporary plays. During his long career with the RSC Woolfenden composed music for many of the company’s most famous productions, including ‘The Wars of the Roses’ (1963-64), ‘Hamlet’ (1966), the award-winning musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ (1976), and Trevor Nunn’s productions of ‘Henry IV Parts 1 and 2’ (1982) which opened the Barbican Theatre.
Woolfenden collaborated with the director Terry Hands on productions of ‘Richard III’ (1972), ‘Pericles’ (1974) and ‘Twelfth Night’ (1976) at the Comédie-Française, Paris, and composed music for productions at the Burgtheater, Vienna, the Teatro Stabile, Genoa, the Den Nationale Scene, Bergen, and the Norwegian National Theatre, Oslo. He collaborated with choreographer André Prokovsky on the music for two ballets commissioned by Australian Ballet, ‘Anna Karenina’ (1979) and ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1980), which he subsequently conducted in productions with Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet of Flanders, Hong Kong Ballet Company and Asami Maki Ballet, Tokyo. In 1993 Woolfenden conducted the Russian premiere of ‘Anna Karenina’ with the Kirov Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.
In addition to his work for the theatre, Woolfenden composed choral works, concertos and, most notably, wind music. 'Gallimaufry', commissioned by the British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles (BASBWE) was derived from music he wrote for Trevor Nunn’s production of 'Henry IV Parts I and II' (1982). 'French Impressions' (1998), inspired by paintings of Georges Seurat, was commissioned by the Metropolitan Wind Symphony of Boston, Massachusetts. 'Bohemian Dances' was commissioned by the University of St Thomas, St Paul, Minneapolis and received its first performance in May 2005. 'Sounds and Sweet Airs - A Shakespeare Journey', for soloists, chorus and orchestra received its first performance in October 2006, and his 'Divertimento for Band' was given its first performance at the Conference of the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles in Killarney in July 2007.
As a conductor Woolfenden worked with many of the major British symphony Orchestras, and was music director of the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra, the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Conservatoire Wind Orchestra. His operatic work included Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ and ‘Simon Boccanegra’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’ with Chelsea Opera Group, three productions with Scottish Opera and, in 1977, as music director at University College London (UCL), he conducted the British premiere of Carl Nielsen's ‘Saul and David’.
From 1986 to 1991 Woolfenden was Artistic Director of the Cambridge Festival, and from 1986 to 2013 he was chairman of the Denne Gilkes Memorial Fund, which assisted students of music and drama. He later served as president of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). In 1990 he was awarded a Fellowship of the Birmingham Conservatoire for services to music in the Midlands, and also made an Honorary Member of the London College of Music. In 2007 Woolfenden was awarded an OBE in recognition of his contribution to music.
Alongside his work as composer and musician, Woolfenden was also a broadcaster, presenting programmes for BBC Radio 3 on ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, Walton’s ‘Façade’ and the composer Roberto Gerhard, and chairing its music quiz ‘Full Score’ between 1994 and 1996.
Woolfenden married Jane Aldrick, an oboe player, in September 1962. Together they founded Ariel Music, which publishes and distributes Woolfenden’s music, as well as the music of other composers.
Guy Woolfenden died on 15 April 2016.