(b Dunfermline, 13 Aug 1901; d Glasgow, 27 March 1960). Scottish conductor and composer. 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.
Ops and operettas: Comala (after Ossian), The Forge, The Tale of the Shepherd
Ballets: Goblin Haa; The Trout; Donald of the Burthens, 1951
Orch: 2 syms.; concs. for pf, vn, va; Edinburgh, Tam o’ Shanter, The Rose Garden, sym. poems; Concert Ov.; Oragif Ov., 1940; The Treadmill, ov.; Dunfermline, prelude; Dark Lochnager; The Isle of Skye; Glamis Castle; A Prayer (by Robert Burns); Fighting for the Empire; Intermezzo; Eightsome Reel; Scottish Dances; Poem (Sweet Allander Stream), small orch
Str orch: Poem; The Ghost of the Strath; Airs and Dances from the Scottish Past, 2 vols.; Sir Walter Scott, air; Interlude; Elegy; Melody
Chbr and solo inst: 3 str qts; pieces for wind insts, pf; An Edinburgh Suite, pf; Pittencrieff Suite, pf; Canzonetta, pf, 1943
Principal publishers: Chester, Universal
(b Ilminster, 1528; d London, c31 July 1596). English lutenist and composer. The discovery in 1955 of his autobiography (written c1576) has made Whythorne the most intimately revealed personality among Elizabethan musicians. After six years at Magdalen College School, Oxford, he matriculated at Magdalen College. His academic career ended with the death of the uncle who had supported him, after which Whythorne became ‘servant and scholar’ to John Heywood for over three years. There, Whythorne ‘learned to play on the virginals, the lute, and to make English verses’. Later he worked as serving-man and music tutor, rising to employment with the Duchess of Northumberland. After the accession of Mary Tudor, Whythorne left for the Continent. His route to and from Naples can be traced in some detail, but he reported little about music or musicians in Italy.
By 1555 Whythorne had become re-established in England as a music tutor. In 1557 he served Lord Ambrose Dudley, son of the Duchess of Northumberland, and he later occupied similar positions in other eminent households. From 1560 to 1562 he acted as a private tutor at Trinity College, Cambridge, to William Bromfield, son of a rich merchant. Later, when the merchant served as Lieutenant General of Ordnance for the expeditionary force at Le Havre, Whythorne became entrusted with Bromfield’s business affairs. These responsibilities had ended early in 1565, when Whythorne resolved to give himself wholly to the profession of music.
Remembering the popularity of madrigal books in Italy, Whythorne decided that he would make himself known to many ‘in the shortest time’ by publishing a collection of his own Songes for Three, Fower and Five Voyces (London, 1571; ed. in McQuillan), the first work of its kind to be published in England. No perfect set of the five books now exists. Publication of the Songes gained Whythorne an appointment as master of music in the chapel of Archbishop Parker, where he set Parker’s versions of Psalms lxxxvi and cvii to music (now lost). Parker’s death in 1575 is the last event recorded in Whythorne’s autobiography. Other records reveal that he married in May 1577.
Thomas East printed his Duos, or Songs for Two Voices in London in 1590. Whythorne made it clear that the music was intended either for voices or combined instruments and voices. The preface shows that he offered the duets to fill a need in areas where singers were difficult to bring together. The volume contains a woodcut portrait of the composer. The first 22 duets were ‘made for young beginners’, or ‘for a man and a childe to sing, or otherwise for voices or Instruments of Musicke, that be of the like compasse or distance in sound’. The second group consists of 15 songs ‘made for two children to sing. Also they be aptly made for two treble Cornets’ or other voices or instruments of similar compass. The remaining 15 compositions were ‘all Canons of two parts in one’, intended for voices or instruments ‘of divers compasses or distances’.
Although Whythorne particularly acknowledged Italian influences, and chiefly that of the napolitana, many of his partsongs owe much to English dance and popular song. The principal interest is normally in the upper voice, the lower voices adding a semi-contrapuntal and non-imitative accompaniment. Particularly characteristic are his restrained use of dissonance and simple chordal structures contrasted with occasional instances of false relations, hemiola rhythms, syncopation and unexpected chords. Few of the texts that Whythorne set offer great scope for dramatic development, nor indeed did the composer make any great use of chromaticism and dissonance for expressive purposes. False relations occasionally appear on affective words such as ‘pierce’ and ‘protest’ but they are found in neutral emotional contexts, as in much English music from the middle of the century. Since I embrace the heavenly grace (from the 1571 volume) is representative at once of his more extended work and of his most dynamic style, ending as it does in a sequence of vigorously contrapuntal melismas to the word ‘rejoice’. Whythorne’s most effective pieces are among the three- and five-part settings, which are predominantly secular. The four-part ‘Grace’ anthems (in the 1571 volume) show his awareness of the simpler aspects of the current liturgical style; like the curiously square Venite, however, these fall below the level of the best that Whythorne’s contemporaries were producing.
Whythorne’s writings are also significant. His is, in the modern sense, the first sustained English autobiography (see Osborn). For social historians, it provides evidence of the manners and customs in great houses, both above and below stairs. For literary historians, it proves a mine of proverbs and of phonological evidence, since Whythorne attempted with Hart’s ‘new orthography’ to record ‘words as they be sounded in speech’. His 200 poems, though they are neither better nor worse than those of his master, John Heywood, increase the corpus of ‘drab poetry’ before the dawn of the golden age. His autobiography reveals many details about the state of music and the condition of musicians in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. It takes us into the ‘secret purposes’ of an introspective, yet serious, composer with a lofty concept of his calling, a man who rose to success in his profession.
E.H.Fellowes: The English Madrigal Composers (Oxford, 1921, 2/1948/R), 34ff
P.Warlock: Thomas Whythorne: an Unknown Elizabethan Composer (London, 1927)
M.C.Boyd: Elizabethan Music and Musical Criticism (Philadelphia, 1940, 2/1962/R), 100ff
J.M.Osborn, ed.: Thomas Whythorne: Autobiography (Oxford, 1961)
J.Jobling: A Critical Study and Partial Transcription of the Two Published Collections of Thomas Whythorne (diss., U. of Sheffield, 1978)
R.McQuillan: Thomas Whythorne, Songs for Three, Four and Five Voices (1571): an Edition and Commentary (thesis, Queen's U. of Belfast, 1981)