A composer was killed today on the Somme

George Butterworth was the composer of English country life.

A lieutenant with Durham Light Infantry, he was shot by sniper at the Battle of Pozières on August 5, 1916.

george butterworth

This recording, by John Shirley-Quirk, Martin Isepp and the LPO, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, was issued by Decca on the 50th anniversary of his death.

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  • Completely wonderful composer, quite haunting that the poems he set of which this (loveliest of trees) is one, are about young people going away to war never to return. One of, if not the brightest of stars of a great era for English music. And also an accomplished, if somewhat pythonesque dancer…

  • A wonderful composer. Mr. Lebrecht, thanks so much for posting the Youtube link. Very interesting.

  • A great talent; a tragic loss. Important to remember that at the time of his death he was regarded as a modernist. His work collecting folk songs was the direct equivalent of Bartok and Kodaly’s contemporaneous work in central Europe. Likewise his interest in folk-dance – at that time a huge influence on Stravinsky’s scores for Diaghilev. Cecil Sharp’s Morris side – of which Butterworth was a member – appeared at an international art festival in Paris in 1913.

    It’s fascinating to speculate on how he would have developed; his handful of folk-influenced orchestral works reveal a sense of power, even darkness, below the melodies that belie their beautiful surface. And although he was a Yorkshireman, and is often classed as a ‘pastoral’ composer, his only orchestral song cycle, Love Blows As The Wind Blows, sets poetry about London.

    • Yes, beautifully put, love the Bartok/ Kodaly comparison. Let’s not get caught in this trap however of thinking that pastoral music, music inspired by nature is somehow lesser music. I think in this day and age there should be more music that reminds us of the beauty and fragility of the natural world.

      • Entirely agreed. But it has become much more difficult nowadays for composers to leave ‘the modern world’ with ist mental and aesthetic pitfalls behind, go into ‘innere Emigration’, and find musical sources that don’t sound sentimental, trivial, and artificial. The difficulty and the challenge of 21C serious music is psychological, and not so much artistic.

  • Such beautiful and also, sad music.

    In 1914 the lights went out over Europe, and a crowd of young people, including the promise of a new age of art, evaporated at the dawn of an age of destruction. Let’s hope this age will bring something of a restoration of what has been lost.

  • There was a lovely tribute the other morning on the Today programme, BBC Radio 4.

    I have a very beautiful recording, on a CD of all English Song, of John Cameron singing A Shropshire Lad with Gerald Moore playing. Part of a CD with Heddle Nash, Walter Midley, Alfred Piccaver, Astra Desmond, and Richard Lewis. I treasure that CD, particularly as I had John as a singing teacher for a year and at the RNCM for two years in his Lieder Class with Alexander (Basil) Young.

  • The above recording of “Loveliest of Trees” cuts off the piano ending, which is a perfect example of Butterworth’s unusual and unique sensibility in setting these poetic gems. The Chandos recording with Benjamin Luxon and David Willison is superb:
    Also on this same CD are several songs of another underrated composer (and poet) Ivor Gurney.

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