William Gillies Whittaker


William Gillies Whittaker (1876-1944) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England in 1876. In 1892 he enrolled as a science student at Armstrong College in that city but some two years later transferred to a music course, and after completing his studies became a member of the teaching staff there. As well as lecturing at the University of Liverpool between 1927-1929, and the Cornell University Summer School in 1929, he had founded the Newcastle upon Tyne Bach choir in 1915, a choir that he conducted until 1930.

In 1929 he moved to Glasgow to be the first joint post holder of Principal of the Scottish National Academy of Music (later the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama) and Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow. As well as conducting, WGW as he became known, was a newspaper critic an examiner, and a composer. As a composer he showed great vitality and strength with a strong northern flavour, especially in his arrangements of northern folk songs. His musical style was influenced by his friend, the composer Gustav Holst.

As head of the Scottish National Academy and Gardiner Professor one his greatest innovations was the Diploma in Music Education, a three year course designed to train music teachers that survived until 1981. He set up history lectures, concerto classes and encouraged opera. He personally took over the choral classes, overhauled the examination system and more controversially, opened the Academy's doors to a form of barefoot dance called Dalcroze Eurythmics. At the same time, he prepared the regulations of the BMus and DMus degrees at the University.

Following arguments with the Governors of the Academy over funding and the working conditions, Whittaker resigned from the stressful joint post in 1938. As well as teaching he also edited works for the Oxford University Press as well as continuing his own studies of Bach's music. He died in 1944.

Biography sourced from University of Glasgow Archives.