2015-04-19 Notes from the Bench

“He is Risen” By Percy Whitlock

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


Percy William Whitlock (1903-1946) was an English organist and composer best remembered for his post-romantic styled organ, choir, and orchestral works. Whitlock was born in Chatham, Kent. From 1920-1924, he held a Kent Scholarship and studied music at the Royal College of Music in London; among his teachers were Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Villiers Stanford, and Henry Ley. Whitlock was the assistant organist at Rochester Cathedral in Kent from 1921 to 1930. He was appointed the Director of Music and organist for St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Bournemouth, serving in that capacity from 1930 to 1935. From 1932 until his death, he was the civic organist for Bournemouth where he regularly performed concerts at the Pavilion Theatre, collaborated with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, and performed for the BBC live broadcasts.

Throughout his adult life, Whitlock endured health problems that ultimately ended his life early. In his twenties, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and suffered from hypertension. Toward the end of his life, he completely lost his eyesight.

Whitlock’s compositional style is characterized by his use of lush harmonies, which were popular among composers of his generation. He was influenced by his teachers, Vaughan Williams and Stanford, and combined various elements of their output with other composers of the era: Edward Elgar, Roger Quilter, and Sergei Rachmaninov. Following Whitlock’s death, music aesthetics were quickly changing; romanticism was supplanted by modern and experimental styles of composition. As a consequence, much of Whitlock’s music was neglected, rarely performed, and largely forgotten. A recent renewal of interest in the works of composers of Whitlock’s era has generated a revival of his works and his oeuvre is now appreciated.

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