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Biography Arthur B. Whiting (1861-1936)

Arthur Whiting, 1904.
Arthur Whiting, 1904. From Louis C. Elsen, The History of American Music. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1904, p. 212, fig. 60. Music Division. Library of Congress. Call number: ML200.E46

Arthur Battelle Whiting was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1861. He was the nephew of organist and composer George E. Whiting. A naturally gifted musician, Arthur first appeared publicly as a concert pianist in Worchester, Massachusetts, at the age of thirteen. He studied first at the New England Conservatory with William Hall Sherwood and George Whitefield Chadwick and later at the Munich Conservatory with Josef Gabriel Rheinberger. The latter composer wrote numerous oratorios, operas, and cantatas and significantly influenced Whiting's interest in vocal and choral music. Due to his study in Germany, Whiting's compositions reflect a strong connection to the music of Bach and Brahms.

Upon his return to the U.S., Whiting married into a prominent New England family and settled in Boston, where he lived from 1885 to 1895. Devoting himself chiefly to composition, he wrote mostly in small instrumental forms. In 1895 he moved to New York, where he worked as a teacher and concert pianist. There he began to write choral motets, anthems, and larger works for combined vocal and instrumental forces. One of his early successes was a choral setting of Oliver Herford's cycle of poems, Floriana, subtitled Overheard in the Garden, first performed in New York in 1902. In 1907 he began teaching a popular series of chamber music courses at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Universities.

Stylistically, Whiting remained a neo-classicist throughout his career. He adhered to traditional forms such as the concerto, fantasia, anthem, and motet. He was a pioneer in the early-music movement advocating for historically informed performance practices.

Whiting's sacred works tended to be in the style of many anthems written at the turn of the twentieth century, demonstrating rhythmic simplicity, symmetrical phrase structure, and chordal accompaniments. His secular songs varied widely from simple settings such as My True Love Hath My Heart (1892) to more complex pieces, e.g., O, Love, Stay By and Sing or On the Walls of Salamanca (1889).

Whiting did not create a large body of work. When asked about his limited productivity, he replied, tongue-in-cheek, that he had been associating with the masters much too long to tolerate his own music any longer. One of his students, however, noted, "As he grew older he came, I think, to regret more rather than less this inhibition of the creative by the critical side of his nature; and not long before his death he confided half whimsically to an intimate friend that an appropriate epitaph for him might be, 'Here lies one who did not compose enough.'"[1] Whiting died in Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1936.


  1. Daniel Gregory Mason, "Arthur Whiting," The Musical Quarterly 23 (January 1937): 26-36. [back to article]