George Butterworth

George Butterworth

:"For George Butterworth, Illustrator & Cartoonist, see George Butterworth (Cartoonist)."George Sainton Kaye Butterworth, MC (July 12, 1885 - August 5, 1916) was an English composer best known for his settings of A. E. Housman's poems.

Early years

Although Butterworth was born in London, his family moved to Yorkshire not long after his birth. He received his first music lessons from his mother, who was a singer, and began composing at an early age. However, his father intended for him to be a solicitor, and he attended Eton College, from there continuing on to Trinity College, Oxford. While at Trinity he became more focused on music, for there he met the folk song collector Cecil Sharp and composer and folk song enthusiast Ralph Vaughan Williams. Butterworth and Vaughan Williams made several trips into the English countryside to collect folk songs, and both saw their compositions strongly influenced by what they heard. Butterworth was also an expert folk dancer, being particularly fond of Morris dancing.

Vaughan Williams and Butterworth became close friends. It was Butterworth who suggested to Vaughan Williams that he turn a symphonic poem he was working on into his "London Symphony". When the manuscript for that piece was lost (having been sent to Fritz Busch in Germany just before the outbreak of war) Butterworth, together with Geoffrey Toye and the critic Edward J. Dent, helped Vaughan Williams reconstruct the work. [Mann, William, liner notes to EMI CD CDM 7 64017 2, 1987] Vaughan Williams dedicated the piece to Butterworth's memory after his death. Upon leaving Oxford, Butterworth began a career in music, writing criticism for "The Times", composing, and teaching at Radley College, Oxfordshire. He also briefly studied at the Royal College of Music where he worked with Hubert Parry among others.

First World War

At the outbreak of World War I, Butterworth signed up for service in the British Army. He served in the Durham Light Infantry as a lieutenant in the 13th Battalion. He was killed by a sniper in 1916 at Pozières leading a raid during the Battle of the Somme. His body was not recovered, and his name appears on the Thiepval memorial, near the site of the Somme. He was awarded the Military Cross, and a trench was named after him.

A Shropshire Lad

Butterworth did not write a great deal of music, and during the war he destroyed many works he did not care for. Of those that survive, his works based on A. E. Housman's collection of poems "A Shropshire Lad" are the best known. Many English composers of Butterworth's time set Housman's poetry, including Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In 1911 and 1912, Butterworth wrote two song cycles on Housman's poems. These were eventually published in two cycles, "Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad" and "Bredon Hill and Other Songs". Ten of the songs were first performed while the composer was at Oxford, but the eleventh (On the Idle Hill of Summer) was not written until he was living in London. They are rarely performed in full today, although six of the songs are often presented together, with "Is My Team Ploughing?" being the most famous. Another, "Loveliest of Trees", is the basis for his 1912 orchestral rhapsody, also called "A Shropshire Lad".

The parallel between the often morbid subject matter of "A Shropshire Lad", set in the context of the Second Boer War, and Butterworth's subsequent death during the Great War is frequently commented upon. A number of Butterworth's other short orchestral works are often heard, "Two English Idylls" (1911) and "The Banks of Green Willow" (1913) among them. The latter work was premiered by the 24-year old Adrian Boult in 1914. It is generally thought by those who have studied his work that he showed promise of greater talent which would have flourished but for his early death.


External links

* [ An essay on Butterworth's life and music]

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