Ian Whyte


A Scottish conductor and composer, Ian Whyte was born in Dunfermline on Aug 13, 1901. He studied the piano at the RCM in London and composition with Stanford and Vaughan Williams. He returned to Scotland in 1923, first as music director to Lord Glentanar, who mounted productions of Mozart and Sullivan at Aboyne in Aberdeenshire, then from 1931 as the BBC's head of music in Scotland, an appointment he held for 14 years. Whyte's insistence that Scotland should originate its own music broadcasts had its most important outcome in the founding in 1935 of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, with a fellow Scot, Guy Warrack, as its conductor. Warrack developed the orchestra (later renamed the BBC Scottish SO) into a versatile ensemble with an adventurous repertory. In 1945 Whyte himself became its conductor and continued its enterprising policies until his death. His musical acumen was demonstrated not only in his qualities as a conductor – his exceptionally acute ear and the lucidity of his performances – but also in his choice of assistants. These included, very early in their careers, Alexander Gibson and Colin Davis. During Whyte's terminal illness much of his work was taken over by Bryden Thomson.

Whyte's responsiveness to Scottish traditional music is demonstrated in his numerous song and dance arrangements. Many of these were initially prepared for a radio series ‘Music from the Scottish Past’: they include madrigals, choral pieces and music for strings, all restored from fragments. Several of his original works received performances at the Edinburgh Festival, among them a piano concerto and a symphony. His ballet Donald of the Burthens, produced at Covent Garden in 1951, incorporated bagpipes (not entirely unsuccessfully) in an otherwise conventional orchestra. His Eightsome Reel for orchestra, and other pieces of the kind, could be said to have paved the way for Scottish-based entertainment music by Arnold, Hamilton, Musgrave and others.

He died in Glasgow, March 27, 1960.

[Biography from Oxford Music Online]