If anyone deserved to be called Mr Chorusmaster, it was Arthur Oldham. His death in Paris at the age of 76 will be mourned not only by generations of singers here in Scotland, where he founded the Edinburgh Festival Chorus in 1965, but by hundreds more in London and abroad, where he held similar appointments, some simultaneously.

Yet it was not a career for which he had considered himself destined, despite his conspicuous brilliance at it. As Benjamin Britten's only authorised private pupil half a century ago, he was naturally expected to become a composer - which he did. It was only when he left his native London for Edinburgh, as music teacher at Scotus Academy and choirmaster at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, that he discovered his future lay primarily in a quite different musical sphere.

At St Mary's in the 1960s, the quality of singing suddenly became renowned. Carlo Maria Giulini, conducting orchestras at the Edinburgh Festival, always made a point of leaving time to attend Sunday service there. When, in 1964, Lord Harewood and Alexander Gibson decided the festival needed its own chorus of international stature, with up to (at that time) 400 choristers, Oldham was their man. He was asked if he would found it, recruit it, train it, give it a corporate personality, and prepare it for its sensational debut in the form of the Scottish premiere of Mahler's Eighth Symphony with the Scottish National Orchestra at the Usher Hall on the opening night of the 1965 festival. The invitation proved irresistible, and Oldham, to instant acclaim, embarked on his new career.

He already had festival connections. His choirboys had sung in a performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust conducted by the ruthless Georg Solti (who hissed at Oldham afterwards that they had been out of tune). He also helped to make possible the first Scottish performances, by Gibson and the SNO, of Britten's War Requiem, a work that would later be conducted at the festival by Giulini with Oldham's by then fully established Festival Chorus as participants.

By then, during the long

period of Peter Diamand's festival directorship, there were several conductors with whose appearances in Edinburgh he was closely associated: Giulini above all, especially in Verdi's Requiem and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, but also Daniel Barenboim (Brahms's German Requiem) and Claudio Abbado (Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms), as well as Gibson in a memorable account of Tippett's A Child of Our Time. A Mahler Second Symphony with Leonard Bernstein, of whom he was rightly wary, and a Bach Magnificat with an unexpectedly benign Herbert von Karajan, were experiences he survived with aplomb.

He was a natural chorusmaster, utterly responsive to the big romantic choral masterpieces - though he defeated a plan for an opening-night performance of The Dream of Gerontius by saying it would kill the festival stone dead. He had a marvellously vivid, direct, amusing, musical rehearsal style. Members of the Festival Chorus were recruited initially in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, with Oldham going from place to place to give auditions, finding (he reported with enthusiasm) a voice like Fischer-Dieskau's here, a perfect Verdi tenor there. Rehearsals invariably began with his famous warm-up exercise, the singing of the name ''Popocatepetl'', meticulously articulated at high speed in different keys up and down the scale.

Though there were composers to whose music, as he admitted, he was unresponsive, his sheer professionalism could conceal the fact. In this respect, his preparation of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron for Richard Armstrong was a triumph of mind over matter, or perhaps matter over mind. At any rate, the performance was another Oldham triumph.

This took place during his second stint with the chorus, by which time he was resident in Paris and had founded the Choeur de l'Orchestre de Paris, commuting weekly to Scotland. His international stature was by then at its height. In London, he had been in charge of the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus for seven years, and

in Amsterdam had founded

the Concertgebouw Orchestra Chorus, building on his Scottish achievements which had included eight years licking the Scottish Opera Chorus into shape, with Berlioz's The Trojans as one of the results.

Yet somehow he still found time to compose, an activity which earlier had had its troubles, especially during his post-Britten period, when a London newspaper dismissed the English Opera Group's performance of his Love in a Village (1952) as ''once Britten, twice shy''. It took time, plus a nervous breakdown and a period working as a messenger for the BBC, for him to recover from such slights, but his move to Scotland and his conversion to Catholicism provided the cure.

His opera for schoolchildren, The Land of Green Ginger, and the Psalms in Times of War he composed for the Festival Chorus just before he departed for France both possessed the directness which were assets of his personality as a whole.

In his early Scottish days, with his thick black beard and dark, burning eyes, he could look a ferocious figure, but in fact was kindly and affable. Later, when his beard grew longer and whiter, he gained a faintly nautical appearance, well suited to a man who spent so much time in transit. A performance of Faure's Requiem, one of his favourite choral works, will be sung in his memory in Paris on Monday.

Arthur William Oldham;

born September 6, 1926, died May 4, 2003.