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George Butterworth

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George Butterworth

Biography

George Sainton Kaye Butterworth, MC (12 July 1885, Paddington, London – 5 August 1916, Pozières, The Somme, France) was an English composer.

George received his first music lessons from his mother, who was a singer, and he began composing at an early age. As a young boy, he played the organ for services in the chapel of his preparatory school, Aysgarth School, before gaining a scholarship to Eton College. He showed early musical promise at Eton, a 'Barcarolle" for orchestra being played during his time there (it is long since lost).

Butterworth then went up to Trinity College, Oxford, where he became more focused on music, becoming President of the University Music Club. He also made friends with the folk song collector Cecil Sharp; the composer and folk song enthusiast Ralph Vaughan Williams; the future Director of the Royal College of Music, Hugh Allen; and a baritone and future conductor, Adrian Boult. Butterworth and Vaughan Williams made several trips into the English countryside to collect folk songs (Butterworth collected over 450 himself, many in Sussex in 1907, and sometimes using a phonograph) and the compositions of both were strongly influenced by what they collected. Butterworth was also an expert folk dancer, being particularly keen in the art of morris dancing. He was employed for a while by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (of which he was a founder member in 1906) as a professional morris dancer, and was a member of the Demonstration Team.

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 piano and organ at the Royal College of Music, where he worked with Hubert Parry among others, though he stayed less than a year as the academic life was not for him.

Butterworth did not write a great deal of music, and before and during the war he destroyed many works he did not care for, lest he should not return and have the chance to revise them. Of those that survive, his works based on A. E. Housman's collection of poems A Shropshire Lad are among the best known. Many English composers of Butterworth's time set Housman's poetry, including Vaughan Williams. His orchestral idyll The Banks of Green Willow is also well known.

George Butterworth was shot by a sniper in The Somme while serving in the British Army in World War I. His body was never recovered.


Works for Winds


References