John D. H. Greenwood

John Danforth Herman Greenwood (26 June 1889 – 15 April 1975), a composer best known for his work in motion pictures, was the son of New Zealander Alfred Greenwood (1842–1912) and his English-born wife Ottilie Rose Minna (1855–1932) née Schweitzer. He was named after his grandfathers Herman Schweitzer a Prussian born Analytical Chemist and Dr. John Danforth Greenwood (1803–1890) from Sussex, England, a pioneering New Zealand physician and educationist, who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1842 after retiring from medicine due to ill health.[1]


Greenwood was born in London. He learned piano and viola from his parents and at 18 entered the Royal College of Music to study viola and horn.


He was a classical composer who also wrote music scores for nearly 50 films from the 1930s to 1950s. He will be found on the credits of films from Man of Aran (1934) to Grand National Night (1954). While he no doubt gained considerable satisfaction from these compositions – and access to a large audience – there were also frustrations as the film editing process frequently required the removal or addition of a bar quite regardless of the overall theme of the piece. Whether his compositions of incidental music for Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream were intrinsically more satisfying is not known.

Serious works include the Piano Quintet (which was performed by Kyla Greenbaum in 1953),[2] La Belle Dame Sance Merci, Pippa Passes, Puncinello, and Salute to Gustav Holst which was premiered at the Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in 1936.

During the War he worked on the staff of the BBC European Service as Assistant Music Supervisor. He died at Ditchling, aged 75.


Many of his manuscripts are held in the archives of McMaster University.[3]



  1. Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Greenwood, Sarah". Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  2. The Times, 16 October 1953, p 2
  3. Goupinets, Nick. "John Danforth Herman Greenwood, McMaster Libraries". Retrieved 26 August 2017.


  • Everyman's Dictionary of Music 5th Edition, 1975. ISBN 0-460-03022-1

John D. H. Greenwood on IMDb

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