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The Percy Whitlock Companion
Selected and edited by Malcolm Riley
The Percy Whitlock Trust, 2007, ISBN 978 0 9555669 0 5, 18
288 pp, 38 illus., song, appendices
Obtainable from the Trust;
Malcolm Riley, 32 Butcher Close, Staplehurst, Kent TN12 0TJ
18 plus 2 p & p. Cheques payable to "The Percy Whitlock Trust"

Malcolm Riley, a great Whitlock champion who has performed his music on disc, was responsible for Percy Whitlock – Organist and Composer published in 1998 and issued in a revised edition in 2003. It offered the first real opportunity to study Whitlock’s life and his work in a comprehensive and cogent way. And for most people, even British Music lovers, Whitlock’s name was just that. His sadly brief life may have been lived mainly on the fringes in Bournemouth but as the appendices to this new volume show he was an active broadcaster, recitalist and appeared at one Prom. This in addition to his daily duties.

The volume covers correspondence to and from Whitlock, a series of articles written by him for certain journals, those valuable BBC broadcast programmes and his recitals for the Organ Music Society. There’s also a recently discovered short story called Country Holiday and an even more recently discovered Song of Bournemouth – just in time for publication as well as it only turned up in January 2007. There is even an article on The South Eastern and Chatham Railway written by the fourteen year old Whitlock in 1920 and though I’m now all at sea on the subject of bogies and heating surfaces it’s good to be reminded of boyish enthusiasms.

Riley and The Whitlock Trust have clearly taken pains to ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication between the two volumes and thus they are properly complementary. As Riley notes in his introduction the correspondence is primarily Organic. There is great emphasis on organs played or wondered at, at specifications and sound quality; at meetings with visiting organists, great and small. Correspondents eagerly tell Whitlock of organs they’ve played or heard. The bulk of the correspondence is between Whitlock and his friend Leslie Barnard, still alive at the time of writing, and their knowledgeable bantering gives a spine to the surviving letters.

There are letters about royalty payments (to Hubert Foss) and commissions, on choirboys’ pay, concerts and recitals anticipated or described – mostly done in a light, airy tone in his letters to Barnard. There’s one letter that reveals an anxiety in his relationship with O.U.P. who were his principal publishers. His 1937 reply to a letter of Foss’s makes for interesting reading [pp.120-21] beginning, as it does "…I am not such a fool as not to realise under what obligation I stand to the Oxford University Press…I think also you are mistaking the type of person I am, if you think I am wanting in gratitude." This was in reply to an earlier letter of Whitlock’s noting he’d been approached by Novello and Boosey and Hawkes for contributions and asking O.U.P for advice. Its terse and biting tenor comes unexpectedly in a collection of much more clement and everyday correspondence.

The minutiae of things organic actually include details of fees and percentages, voltage details – true! – specifics of specifications, rebuilds, and the practicalities of a working musical life. There’s a notably pragmatic letter to Norman Peterkin of O.U.P. in 1945 regarding Whitlock’s submission or non-submission of things to the firm and the reasons why. His war service is alluded to as well – a secondment to the Records and Checking department of the Food Office in Bournemouth. We can also follow the deterioration in Whitlock’s health, his increasing blindness and miserably early death when he was only in his early forties.

The text has fortunately has been well illustrated though surely a better photograph of Dan Godfrey could have been acquired. The appendices offer much in the way of repertoire information and this will prove invaluable to researchers. And one final thing; try to hear Amphion PHI CD 147 which has examples of Whitlock’s organ playing – I’m sure finance was a consideration but what a pity that a similar disc wasn’t included as a bonus. Reading about his playing leads one inevitably to want to hear it. But his now stilled written voice comes across intimately in this handsomely produced volume.

Jonathan Woolf




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