Papers of William Gillies Whittaker, 1876-1944, Professor of Music

Scope and Content

Scores of works by William Gillies Whittaker and his transcriptions of works by other composers, chiefly from the baroque era. There are over 80 original compositions in a variety of forms - songs, part-songs, choral works, piano, instrumental and chamber music - and about 100 arrangements, consisting mainly of songs and choral and instrumental music. As well as manuscripts, the collection comprises several thousand items which include a large number of standard scores, but the collection is particularly strong in early 20th-century English music. There are also several volumes of 18th-century music, as well as a copy of virtually every song and choral work which appeared under the Oxford University Press imprint during the period of Whittaker's general editorship.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information

Access is open, however an appointment may be required. Please email Archives and Special Collections for advice:

Acquisition Information

Gift: Mary and Edward Pollitzer : 1963 : ACCN 4626

Other Finding Aids

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Applications for permission to quote should be sent to Archives and Special Collections, please email:

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 247 procedures

Custodial History

Not known


Gift : 1975 : ACCN 5065

Gift : Scottish Music Archive : 1984 : ACCN 5066

Gift : Melanie Pollitzer : 2013 : ACCN 5020

Gift : Royal College of Music : 2015 : ACCN 5032

Related Material

GB 247 MS Gen 1350-1352: Papers of William Gillies Whittaker (1913-1934)

GB 247 MS Gen 546/1-29: Family Papers of William Gillies Whittaker

GB 247 MS Gen 1353: Correspondence of Gustav Holst, 1874-1934, from William Gillies Whittaker, 1876-1944

Geographical Names