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  • CanadaThe Drs. James L. and Margaret Whitby Music Collections Music Library, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
  • Lisa Rae Philpott (bio)

Since 2005, Western’s Music Library (CDN-Lu) has been the beneficiary of regular installments of a magnificent gift of printed music published between 1760 and 1850. Why installments? The Drs. Whitby, ardent chamber musicians, are still actively playing and enjoying portions of their collection! Over the course of six decades of collecting, they have assembled an extraordinarily rich library which, thanks to digitisation, is being made available to music scholars, professional musicians, and music-making amateurs alike. At the present time (2016) there are 1,341 titles from the Drs. Whitby Collection freely available at: (accessed 10 June 2016). The Western Libraries catalogue lists 1,551 titles attached to the Whitbys’ digital bookplate: (accessed 10 June 2016). Recently acquired accruals are still being processed and will in time make their appearance in the Western Libraries catalogue and on the Internet Archive.

James and Margaret met in 1945 while attending Cambridge University as medical students, and were married in 1948. While at Cambridge, they both were members of the Cambridge University Musical Society (Margaret sang in the choir, James played viola in the orchestra), and they both sang in the Madrigal Society under the direction of Boris Ord. James was a recipient of the Jasper Ridley Prize awarded by the Provost of King’s College to an undergraduate for “knowledge of and devotion to music, Greek literature, or both”. After their studies, both James and Margaret performed in the St. Michael’s Singers, Cornhill (London), under the direction of Harold Darke, and James also pursued chamber music making opportunities1. Not to be left out, at age twenty-five Margaret took up the cello, and later attained a degree of proficiency which enabled her to become an active participant in chamber music ensembles. A move to Canada in 1971 scarcely interrupted the Whitby’s chamber music activities. On the dock at Liverpool, while awaiting boarding for emigration, James noticed some string instrument cases addressed to a “Tracy” in London, Ontario, and on the voyage made contact with the Tracy family. Thus from their arrival in Canada, James and Margaret became involved in regular chamber music playing often with the Tracy family: Gordon on viola, and Betty on the cello. With two cellos and two violas available, the Tracy/Whitby group was a little bottom-heavy, [End Page 235] prompting the acquisition of two cello quintets by Boccherini and Onslow, and two of Krommer’s twenty-seven viola quintets.2

This shared activity and passion for chamber music, begun in the 1950s, has blossomed: from 1973 to the present day, James and Margaret have hosted an ongoing weekly chamber music gathering at their home, and frequently plan their vacations with the intent of visiting antiquarian music dealers, playing chamber music with like-minded friends, as well as attending opera performances in the evenings. In 1973 they started playing regularly in a quartet led by Sandra Stark, a prominent local violin teacher, and Philip G. Downs, professor of music history at the University of Western Ontario (now Western University). This quartet continued until 2011, when Downs could no longer continue due to ill health. From the outset, encouraged by Downs, the members of this weekly house quartet explored the classical era’s full range of string chamber music, particularly those works composed between 1750 and 1850, notable as a time when much chamber music was written with the amateur performer in mind. In his 1992 book Classical Music: The Era of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, Downs writes,

The string quartet covers the whole spectrum of musical needs of the time. Indeed, it is arguable that no other medium was able to fill the gamut of social demands as well… No other medium could do as much as the quartet and none lent itself more readily to handling by carefree amateurs or by the most learned and imaginative minds of the time3.

First and early editions of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert...


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