Tribute to composer

Graham Whettam

7th September 1927 - 17th August 2007


Graham Whettam was a vibrant, exciting person, described by critics and colleagues as dedicated, passionate, loyal, a fount of knowledge, eccentric, bow-tie-wearing with a brilliant memory and consumed by the need to transform his musical ideas into original sounds and structures.

He used a large canvas and a great range of musical expression from seductive solo cello writing to overwhelming orchestral climaxes; from despair and desolation to exuberance, playfulness and humour. Whettam said,: "What I am attempting is to extend the range of what any instrument is capable of doing. It's not a case of writing something which barely fits on the instrument; it's rather to stretch the technique."

Formerly a director of both the Performing Right Society, and Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, Vice Chairman for some twenty years of the British Copyright Council and the longest serving Chairman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain, he was a courageous and principled fighter on behalf of other musicians - "a tireless champion in high places". Composers' Guild Magazine.

Self-taught like many great composers, Graham Whettam studied the work of Masters who have gone before and developed his own 'voice' by listening self- critically to his works played by eminent musicians and orchestras. Early influences were Bartok and Mahler.

In 1953 J. Arthur Rank commissioned Whettam to write the orchestral score for the internationally renowned film "Genevieve". 1955 saw a Children's Film Foundation production winning a Premier Award in the Venice Film Festival - music by Whettam. As a young man he honed his mastery of orchestral sound and textures by writing hundreds of short incidental-music scores. "There was continual pressure on me to write fast", he says,"There wasn't enough time to think".

Concert music, involving organic growth and developing logic, the focus of Whettam's activity for many years, sprang from the musical ideas which continually filled his head. Throughout his composing life, in spite of the vagaries of musical fashion, symphonic music was, for Whettam, the pinnacle of artistic achievement.

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