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'In the Swim’: The life and musical achievements of William Gillies Whittaker 1876-1944

Borthwick, Mary Christine (2007) 'In the Swim’: The life and musical achievements of William Gillies Whittaker 1876-1944. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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William Gillies Whittaker (1876-1944) was one of Britain's most influential musicians during the first half of the twentieth century. Though he is now sadly neglected, during his highly productive life his name was ubiquitous in almost every branch of indigenous music-making. This study seeks to explore in depth a musical life and achievement which has until now remained cursory in detail and lacking in critical appraisal. Since little is known of Whittaker's life, the first two chapters attempt to redress this balance by charting the direction in which Whittaker, an autodidact, forged his career. A man strongly linked with the North East of England (his unpublished Autobiography of a Provincial Musician accentuates this association), he did much to elevate music in Newcastle and the surrounding regions whether through folk-song arranging, school teaching, choir training, concert promotion, playing the organ, composing and as an academic lecturer. Before World War One, a period which might be described as his apprenticeship, he remained a provincial figure, but with the formation of the Newcastle Bach Choir in 1915, he was able to project his seminal interests in the music of J. S. Bach and the works of his contemporary compatriots. A close friendship with Hoist and other modern British composers located the Bach Choir at the cutting edge of new music and performances of Bach's choral works (which led to the posthumous publication of his pioneering The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian: Sacred and Secular in 1959) established his reputation on a national scale. Finding Newcastle too restrictive he eventually secured a newly-created appointment as Principal of the Scottish National Academy of Music and Professor of Music at Glasgow University, an appointment which, though productive, proved disappointing and embittering. As a national figure, galvanised by his work for the Bach Choir (see Chapter Three), Whittaker was engaged as the General Editor for Oxford University Press's newly-founded Educational Music Department through which his name became known in schools and choirs throughout the country and gave rise to germane publications such as The Oxford Orchestral Series, Oxford Songs from the Old Masters and The Clarendon Songbooks (See Chapters Four and Five). This and his position as a member of three Musical Advisory Committees for the newly inaugurated BBC allowed him to 'network' and befriend a large number of fellow musicians throughout the country, and his chauvinism on behalf of British music between the wars was well known for its pugnacity and single-mindedness, as can be measured by his leadership of the ISM in 1934 and the international exposure of his choral masterpiece Psalm 139 in Frankfurt. One further important facet of Whittaker's career was composition, for which he had no formal training. Encouragement from Hoist, who was not only a major stylistic influence but also believed in his abilities, gave rise to creative work, much of it shaped by practical circumstance. For schools there were simple unison and part-songs; for larger choruses there were fertile folksong arrangements and more extended canvases such as The Lyke-Wake Dirge, The Coelestial Sphere and Psalm 139; he was also prolific in the province of solo songs (where he was arguably most successful) and during his period at Glasgow he produced a substantial amount of Gebrauchsmusik; and he was a Carnegie winner for his piano quintet Among the Northumbrian Hills. Chapter Six seeks to explore the range of Whittaker's mainly unpublished output which acted as a process of catharsis during the many periods he spent abroad in Australia, America and mainland Europe

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:27

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