1 Sep 2013

Percy Whitlock (1903-1946)

From Composer of the Week, 9:00 am on 1 September 2013
Percy Whitlock

Percy Whitlock Photo: Percy Whitlock Trust


The most shy and mild-mannered of men was Percy Whitlock - so much so that when he came to the end of his organ concerts he preferred to let the music fade away and would then scurry off the stage like a mouse, rather than milking the applause.

Percy William Whitlock was a composer who remains but little known outside the rarified confines of those who inhabit organ lofts.

He lived for only 42 years, dogged by ill health for almost all his life. He was also known as Kenneth Lark – a pseudonym reserved for his Light Music publications.

He was undoubtedly an unusual and quirky character. Today he’d probably be called a nerd. He was slight of frame and a little bit goofy, with buck teeth and round wire-rimmed glasses. His house was full of bits of organ, with pedal pipes propped up on the stairs, one on each tread. He was a tinkerer and built two elaborate clocks out of Meccano, and a model revolving stage with tabs and lighting, all controlled by electric motors and relays. He was a prodigious letter-writer, often using deliberately weird spellings and quixotically interrupting his thread with things like recipes for chocolate mousse. His diaries are fascinating, providing a time-warp into the '20s and '30s with hilarious vignettes of famous musicians: like Sir Malcolm Sargent: “conceited and malicious”; EJ Moeran, who turned up “apoplectically, paralytically tight”; or Dame Ethel Smyth, whom he described as “almost stone deaf, wearing her doctoral robes and conducting with a roll of paper”.

Music Details:

WHITLOCK: The Blue Poole – RTE Concert Orchestra/ Gavin Sutherland (Naxos 8.225162)

WHITLOCK: All people that on earth – Rochester Cathedral Choir/Whitlock (Amphion PHI CD 147)

HANDEL: Bouree – Percy Whitlock (Amphion PHI CD 147)

HANDEL: Largo – Percy Whitlock/BMO (Amphion PHI CD 147)

WHITLOCK: Glorious in Heaven – St Paul’s Cathedral Choir/John Scott (Hyperion CDA67483)

WHITLOCK: Folk Tune – John Scott (Hyperion CDA 67470)

WHITLOCK: Organ Sonata – John Scott (Hyperion CDA 67470)

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