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date: 27 January 2020

Whitlock, Percy Williamfree

  • Malcolm Riley

(b Chatham, June 1, 1903; d Bournemouth, May 1, 1946). English organist and composer. The only child of William Thomas Whitlock and Annie Jemima Reeves, he was enrolled as a chorister at Rochester Cathedral, Kent from the age of seven (initially under Bertram Luard-Selby) and later appointed assistant organist there under Charles Hylton Stewart. In 1920, at the age of 16, he won the Kent Scholarship to the RCM, where he studied composition with Stanford and Vaughan Williams and organ with Henry G. Ley. From 1924 to 1928 he was Organist of St Mary’s Church, Chatham, when he was forced, due to ill-health, to cut back his activities. After a short time for treatment at the Midhurst Tuberculosis sanatorium in Sussex he took up the part-time post of Organist of St Matthew’s Parish Church in Borstal, a village near Rochester. His move to Bournemouth in 1930 resulted in greater awareness of his accomplishments both as a performer and composer. There he worked as Director of Music at St. Stephen’s Church until 1935. From 1932, until his premature death, he also served as the town’s Municipal Organist, where he presided over the large dual-purpose Compton organ in the Pavilion Theatre. He composed much of his orchestral output for the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra and three of its conductors: its founding father, Sir Dan Godfrey, and his successors, Richard Austin and Montague Birch. Whitlock broadcasted frequently for the BBC and was in demand as a musical journalist (for both local and national publications) and as an organ recitalist (including five appearances in London for the prestigious Organ Music Society). His organ compositions are still widely played; his sacred choral works less so. In addition to his well-known miniatures there are longer concert works, including a Sonata and Two Fantasie Chorals for organ and a Symphony for organ and orchestra. During the early years of World War II he worked for the Food Control (Rationing) authorities in Bournemouth. In January 1931 Whitlock married Edna May Kingdon (1901–93), a singing pupil of Hylton Stewart and a fellow student at the RCM. In 1982 a charitable Percy Whitlock Trust was established, to bring his music back into general circulation through reprints and support for commercial recordings. Whitlock has been the subject of two books written by Malcolm Riley: The Percy Whitlock Companion (Staplehurst, Kent, 2007) and Percy Whitlock: Organist and Composer (London, 1997, revised 2003).

Works

6 Hymn Preludes, org (Rochester and Bournemouth, 1923–44)

5 Short Pieces, org (Rochester, 1929)

Pf Qt, g (Rochester, 1929–30)

Rochester Pageant Music, chorus, orch (Bournemouth, 1930–31)

Solemn Te Deum, choir, org (Bournemouth, 1931)

Two Fantasie Chorals, org (Bournemouth, 1931)

Carillon, org, orch (Bournemouth, 1932)

4 Extemporisations, org (Bournemouth, 1932)

Sonata, c, org (Bournemouth, 1932)

7 Sketches, org (Bournemouth, 1934)

Symphony, g, org, orch (Bournemouth, 1936–7)

Plymouth Suite, org (Bournemouth, 1937)

Wessex Suite, orch (Bournemouth, 1937)

Holiday Suite, orch (Bournemouth, 1939)

Prelude, Air and Fugue, orch (Bournemouth, 1939)

Harpsichord Suite (Bournemouth, c1939)

Music for Orchestra, suite (Bournemouth, 1940–41)

Conversation Piece, org, orch (Bournemouth, 1942)

Reflections, org (Bournemouth, 1942–5)

This article supersedes an older article.