• CanadaThe Drs. James L. and Margaret Whitby Music Collections Music Library, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

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: https://archive.org/details/whitbymusic (accessed 10 June 2016). The Western Libraries catalogue lists 1,551 titles attached to the Whitbys’ digital bookplate: http://www.lib.uwo.ca/catalogue/bookplates/viewfund.php?id=391 (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 are found in the Whitby library, but the collecting focus became works by their contemporaries. Works by lesser masters were sought and gathered together from auction houses, such as Sotheby’s, and from antiquarian dealers. As Downs notes, “The lesser masters entertain magnificently without offering quite the same scope [as the masters], nor do they make the same demands on the players and listeners”4. As musical amateurs, in the truest sense of the word, the Drs. Whitby sought out and assembled an astonishing collection of playable chamber music in first and early editions. As former board members of the Cobbett Association for Chamber Music Research they played a part in the relocation of the Cobbett Chamber Music Library to Western University; James has written several articles which appear in the Journal of the Cobbett Association5. Lest one imagine that chamber music is their sole musical interest, James and Margaret have been active in local orchestras: James as a contracted violist (seventy services annually) with Orchestra London Canada (sadly, now defunct) for twenty-one seasons, and Margaret as an original member of the London Community Orchestra and as its manager and librarian for much of its forty-two-year history. [End Page 236]

Genesis of the Collection

‘Something clear and simple to get us into our stride... So where’s the Haydn? Fetch him out’. The viola obeys, though with no good will. He is the librarian; most of the music belongs to him, and he is for ever adding to it. He dreams of a day when he will have it all bound6.

As suggested by Aulich and Heimeran in the above passage, James, as violist, took on the collector/librarian role for the Whitbys’ chamber music activities. Although his earliest antiquarian purchases—a Welcker edition of Abel sonatas and an edition of Corelli sonatas published by John Walsh—date from his student days, James first built the Whitbys’ chamber music library with modern editions, frequently acquired secondhand. This was the collection which accompanied the couple to Canada. As disposable income increased, however, their acquisitions became more numerous and wide-ranging. In order to purchase lesser-known chamber works, particularly those with but a single publication history, it was necessary to patronise dealers who carried editions of antiquarian music. At the time, antiquarian editions of chamber music were modestly priced, and were acquired from Blackwell’s Music Shop in Oxford. This connection yielded a referral to the noted London antiquarian dealer Hermann Baron, himself an accomplished violinist, whom James and Margaret visited annually not only to purchase music, but to play through some of their purchases with him7.

Canada has no antiquarian music dealers. To build a collection, to meet the objective of their ensemble “to explore lesser-known chamber music of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries”, and to pursue James’ passion for English music of the same period, it was necessary to forge contacts with dealers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Between 1975 and 1996, the Whitbys acquired a substantial collection of string chamber music published between 1760 and 1850, the bulk of which features more than 750 compositions by contemporaries of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. A selection of those contemporary composers includes Boccherini, Cambini, Cherubini, Distler, Eybler, Gyrowetz, Peter Hänsel, Krommer, Onslow, Pleyel, the Rombergs, the Stamitzs, and Spohr. All of the works have been played by the Whitby’s house quartet, and when a fifth player (keyboard, flute, viola, or cello) was available, music for that combination was also at hand, and played.

The lack of Canadian antiquarian music dealers meant that the task of appraising this collection for tax relief presented significant challenges. Given the rarity of the materials, the traditional approach of searching for valuations via auction records and dealer catalogues was not terribly helpful. Even when prices were found, they were likely to be wildly out-of-date. And when a lot is purchased at auction, who is to say what the fair price for a specific title might be? Certainly, lesser-known yet desirable titles were purchased in this manner, and other, already-owned and/or more popular items were sold to antiquarian dealers at a mutually agreed-upon fair and profitable sum. The nature of music, and particularly the ephemeral nature of music parts has also contributed to the rarity of these materials. James undertook a search of unspecified Canadian online library catalogues in [End Page 237] 2007, and found no holdings whatsoever for string quartets by these nineteen composers: Abel, Auber, *Benevento di San Rafaele, *Carbonelli, *Corelli, *Festing, *Foulis, *Geminiani, Giardini, Krommer, *Leclair, *Locatelli, *Mascitti, Morigi, Paganini, *Senaillé, *Tartini, *Veracini and *Zuccari. In 2015 a quick search of WorldCat for printed music, with the subject “quartets” by these same nineteen composers, published between 1760 and 1850 yielded no other Canadian holdings; moreover, works by thirteen of these composers (noted with an asterisk above) were not found in any contributing library. Of the remaining six composers, Krommer has 106 entries, seventy with a single exemplar; Abel thirty-two entries, of which twenty-three are unique copies; Giardini is represented with sixteen titles, ten unique; Paganini, ten titles, eight unique; Auber, eleven titles, ten unique; and Morigi, three titles, one unique.

When all accruals have been received and digitised, the Whitby collections will offer access to several hundred more hitherto-inaccessible early published chamber music works. The task of assembling such a collection today would be almost impossible: titles rarely appear on the market, and prices have become prohibitive. James’s and Margaret’s chamber music library, carefully and cannily assembled over the span of more than sixty years, is a fabulous resource for future generations and includes not just quartets (both original and arranged from the popular operatic airs of the day) but solos, sonatas, tutors, studies, quintets, operas, symphonies, and song books. James’s interest in string quartets dedicated to Haydn is a fascinating subset of the collection, many having significant dedications eulogising Haydn. Composers represented in this subset include Mozart, Pleyel, Andrea and Bernard Romberg, Radicati, and Benincori, to name but a few. The research value of these collections is significant and wide-ranging: string quartets, both amateur and professional, will have access to a repertoire wider than just those works which have come to comprise the canon; young singers will be able to perform arias accompanied by chamber ensembles, rather than risking vocal injury by trying to sing over a larger ensemble; historians will have a fuller picture of music engraving, printing and publishing practices, and access to a more complete repertoire of music which was available for both domestic and public music making; pedagogical opportunities abound, with respect to studying and creating a variety of editions of a musical work. And, while the adjective ‘first edition’ does tend to make a librarian’s or scholar’s heart beat faster, occasionally a subsequent edition is of greater interest: witness the Whitby’s copy of a later edition of Geminiani’s Le prime sonate a violino, e basso (1739) a rare, complete copy, in an edition which was supervised by the composer. Heady stuff for scholars!

Stay tuned as titles in future accruals appear on https://archive.org/details/whitbymusic (accessed 10 June 2016). For more information about the Dr. James L. and Dr. Margaret Whitby Music Collections, contact the Music Library’s director Brian McMillan (bmcmill2@uwo.ca). [End Page 238]

Lisa Rae Philpott

Lisa Rae Philpott is the Reference, Collections, and Instructional Librarian at the Music Library, The University of Western Ontario in London, Canada.


1. James L. Whitby, “The James & Margaret Whitby Music Library”, collection overview, 2007.

2. The New Grove Dictionary lists twenty-six viola quintets by Krommer. James assures me that Grove is in error, and Padrta’s thematic catalogue concurs; we shall have to wait for Krommer to appear in a future accrual. James related how the late music antiquarian Albi Rosenthal (1914–2004) had once contacted him regarding a Krommer viola quintet in manuscript, which James was able to successfully identify for the dealer.

3. Philip G. Downs, Classical Music: The Era of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 374.

4. Ibid., 374.

5. See http://chambermusicjournal.org (accessed 10 June 2016), issues 5/3 through 6/3.

6. Bruno Aulich and Ernst Heimeran, The Well-Tempered String Quartet: A Book of Counsel and Entertainment for all Lovers of Music in the Home, translated by D. Millar Craig, revised with additions (London: Novello, 1951), 9.

7. Whitby, 2007.

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