Alfred Whitehead

Alfred (Ernest) Whitehead. Composer, organist, choirmaster, teacher, b Peterborough, England, 10 Jul 1887, d Amherst, NS, 1 Apr 1974.

Whitehead, Alfred

Alfred (Ernest) Whitehead. Composer, organist, choirmaster, teacher, b Peterborough, England, 10 Jul 1887, d Amherst, NS, 1 Apr 1974; ARCO 1910, FCCO 1913, B MUS (Toronto) 1916, D MUS (McGill) 1922, FRCO (with the Lafontaine Prize) 1924, honorary LL D (Mount Allison) 1954, honorary LLD (Queen's) 1970, FRCCO 1973. After studies with Haydn Keeton and C.C. Francis, both of Peterborough Cathedral, and later with A. Eaglefield Hull, he emigrated to Canada in 1912 and was the first Fellow by examination (1913) of the Canadian Guild (College) of Organists (RCCO). He was organist-choirmaster 1912-15 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Truro, NS, and instructor in organ and theory 1913-15 at Mount Allison University. He moved in 1915 to Sherbrooke, Que, as organist-choirmaster at St Peter's Anglican Church, and then to Montreal, where he served 1922-47 as organist-choirmaster at Christ Church Cathedral. He also taught organ, theory, and composition 1922-30 at the McGill Cons. Among his pupils were Alexander Brott, Graham George, Hector Gratton, Frances James, Donald Mackey, Louis Robinson, and Ethel Stark. During the Montreal years, Whitehead became the acknowledged leader of the city's Protestant church music, and his Cathedral Singers (Montreal) were chosen by Wilfrid Pelletier to perform major works of Bach with the orchestra of the CSM in 1936 at the inception of the Montreal Festivals and also at subsequent festivals. Forced by ill health to withdraw from his arduous duties in Montreal, he became head of the music department at Mount Allison University and served there 1947-53. On his retirement from the university he became organist-choirmaster of Trinity United Church, Amherst, NS, retaining the post until 1971. He was twice (1930-1, 1935-7) president of the CCO and also served as honorary vice-president 1971-3 and honorary president 1973-4 of the RCCO.

Whitehead was a distinguished recitalist, but his finest playing was in the accompaniment of the church service. He was, he said, 'trained to the belief that organ accompaniment... was the student's chief concern.' As choir director and teacher he combined consummate technique and high standards with unfailing courtesy and good humour. He was a prolific composer of motets and anthems in traditional idiom (in a letter of 1963 he remarks on the 'far too many Whitehead church works'), but the quality of his output was consistently high. His own choice included 'Alleluia, Sing to Jesus' with organ accompaniment based on Alle Menschen müssen sterben from Bach's Orgelbüchlein; the short motets 'Bread of the World,' 'Grant Us Grace,' and 'Almighty God, Whose Glory'; a 'Benedicite' on the Tonus peregrinus (called by Leo Sowerby the 'best Benedicite' he knew); and three anthems recurrently mentioned in Whitehead's letters: 'Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem,' 'Now God Be with Us,' and 'O Light Beyond Our Utmost Light.' Notable also are the eight-part motet 'Watch Thou, Dear Lord' on words of St Augustine, 'Love Unknown,' many of his short carols for Christmas, and the Brahmsian organ Prelude on Irby (the tune associated with 'Once in Royal David's City').

Whitehead was an internationally recognized authority on some aspects of philately, and just before his death he completed the preparation of a third edition of his book, first published in the 1950s, The Squared-Circle Cancellations of Canada. He also was a noted painter, and his works hang in various private collections. A large part of his private library and many of his papers have been deposited at the National Library of Canada. His status as associate composer is maintained at the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Compositions

Choral
'Alleluia, Sing to Jesus' (W.C. Dix). 1932. SATB, organ. Birchard 1934

Eighteen Fauxbourdons and Descants (various). 1932. SATB. Fischer 1933

'Love Unknown' (Crossman). 1932. SATB. Stainer 1933

'Most Glorious Lord of Life' (Spenser). 2 SATB. Gray 1932

'Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem' (St Faulbert of Chartres, transl J.N. Neale). 1932. SATB, organ. Schmidt 1933

'Almighty God, Whose Glory' (Liturgy of St James, 2nd century AD). SATB. Birchard 1933

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. 1933. 2 SATB, organ. Fischer 1933

'Come Sweet Evening Guest' (Whitehead). Sop (tenor), SATB, organ. Boston 1934

'Watchman, from the Height Beholding' (Psalms 22, 27, 118, Hymns of the Apostolic Church, transl Rev J. Brownl). 1933. Sop, bar, SATB, organ. Boston 1934

'Early One Morning' (Old English folksong). 1934. Women's voices (mixed voices). Schmidt 1940

'The Lord is my Shepherd' (Psalm 23). 1934. SSATB. Fischer 1935. CBC Musica Viva MVCD-1039 (Tudor Singers)

'Grant Us Grace, Lord' (Joachim Embden). SSATB. Curwen 1934

'O Light Beyond Our Utmost Light.' SATB, organ. Boston 1934

'Watch Thou, Dear Lord,' motet (St Augustine). SATB, organ (soprano, tenor duet). Ditson 1934

'The Seven Joys of Mary' (Old English). Sop, SATB. Birchard 1935

'Benedicite omnia opera.' SATB, organ. Belwin 1936

'If Ye Then Be Risen with Christ' (Colossians 3). Sop, bar, SATB, organ. Belwin 1937

'Praise Him, Ye That Fear Him' (Revelations 15 and 19). Sop, alto, tenor, bass, SATB, organ. Belwin 1937

'I Beheld a Great Multitude' (Revelations 7). Ten, SATB, organ. Curwen 1938

'Now God Be with Us' (Herbert). SATB. Galaxy 1940

'Through a Long Cloister.' 1940. Male voices. Galaxy 1940

'Bread of the World' (Bishop Reginald Haber). Ca 1946. SATB. Ditson 1948

Over 100 songs, anthems, carols, and other choral works for mixed voices, men's voices and women's voices, published by Boston, Belwin, Curwen, Ditson, FH, Fischer, GVT, Galaxy, Gray, Novello, OUP, Schmidt, Stainer, and West, 1928-70

Also several arr of English and French- and English-Canadian folksongs, traditional Christmas and Easter carols including 'The Carol of the Good Thief' (Western 1938) recorded by the Senior Choir of The Church of Saint Andrew, Scarborough (J-Mar J-23592), and adaptations and arr of early choral pieces for use as anthems

Organ

Christmas Slumber Song. Schmidt 1932

Passacaglia. Gray 1932

Prelude on 'Winchester Old,' Christmas pastorale. Ca 1937. Gray 1937

Prelude on a Theme by Orlando Gibbons. Gray 1940

Westminster Suite, arr. OUP 1943


Further Reading

  • MacRae, C.F. 'Alfred Whitehead,' CMJ, vol 5, Spring 1961

    'Alfred Whitehead,' Atlantic Advocate, vol 54, July 1964

    George, Graham. 'Alfred Whitehead: Doctor of Music,' AGO and RCCO Music, vol 4, Nov 1970

    'Alfred Whitehead 1887-1974,' ibid, vol 8, Jul 1974

    Catalogue of Canadian Composers