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Whitlock was born in Chatham, Kent. A student of Vaughan Williams at London's Royal College of Music, Whitlock quickly arrived at a musical idiom that combined elements of his teacher's output and that of Elgar. His lush harmonic style also bore traces of Gershwin and other popular composers of the 1920s. Stanford, Rachmaninov and Roger Quilter are other important stylistic influences. Like Vaughan Williams and Frederick Delius, he often used themes that sounded like folk songs but were, in fact, original creations.
From 1921 to 1930 Whitlock was assistant organist at Rochester Cathedral in Kent. He served as Director of Music at St Stephen's Church, Bournemouth for the next five years, combining this from 1932 with the role of that town's borough organist, in which capacity he regularly played at the local Pavilion Theatre. After 1935 he worked for the Pavilion Theatre full-time. A tireless railway enthusiast, he wrote at length and with skill about his interest. Sometimes, for both prose and music, he used the pseudonym Kenneth Lark. He worked closely with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, with which he gave dozens of live BBC broadcasts between 1933 and his death. The orchestra's conductor from 1935 to 1940 was Richard Austin, whose father Frederic Austin dedicated his Organ Sonata to Whitlock.
Among Whitlock's organ works are Five Short Pieces (1929), Four Extemporisations (1933; these are actually much more cogent than their title suggests), Seven Sketches on Verses of the Psalms (1934), the Plymouth Suite (1937–1939) and the Sonata in C minor (1936). His Symphony in G minor for organ and orchestra was revived by Graham Barber and the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra in 1989 and subsequently recorded by Francis Jackson, and the University of York Symphony Orchestra.[when?] Nevertheless, Whitlock's creative gifts expressed themselves most completely in the smaller forms, and as a miniaturist he can stand alongside many composers much better remembered than he.
Whitlock was diagnosed with tuberculosis in his twenties, and also suffered from hypertension. Near the end of his life he lost his sight altogether, and he died in Bournemouth a few weeks before his 43rd birthday. For decades afterwards he remained largely forgotten. This neglect has eased in recent times, with the increased popularity of post-romantic organ literature.
The Percy Whitlock Trust, founded in 1983, coordinates many events and recitals. The president of the trust is Francis Jackson, and the secretary is Malcolm Riley, who published the authorised biography of Whitlock in 1998.
- Six Hymn Preludes (1923, revised 1944)
- Five Short Pieces (1929)
- Two Fantasie Chorales (1931–33)
- Four Extemporisations (published 1933)
- Seven Sketches on Verses from the Psalms (1934)
- Sonata in C minor (1935–36)
- Plymouth Suite (1937–39)
- Three Reflections: Three Quiet Pieces (1942–45)
- Carillon (1932)
- March: Dignity and Impudence (1933)
- Concert-Overture "The Feast of St Benedict" (1934)
- To Phoebe (1936)
- Symphony in G minor (1936-7)
- Poem (1937)
- Wessex Suite (1937)
- Balloon Ballet (1938)
- Holiday Suite (1938-9)
- Ballet of the Wood Creatures (1939)
- Suite: Music for Orchestra (1940)
- Caprice (1941)
- Be still my soul and know that I am God
- Here, O my Lord, I see Thee Face to Face
- O Living Bread, who once did Die
- Jesu, grant me this, I pray (rev 1945)
- Short Mass in B-flat major
- Morning and Evening Service in G
- Glorious in Heaven (1927)
- Evening Service in D (1930)
- Plainsong Service
- Whitlock, Percy. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Amalgamated. 1899 LOCOMOTIVES: Their Description, History, distinctive features and interest. Preface Retrieved 11-07-2009.