Butterworth, George – Six Songs From A Shropshire Lad, Bredon Hill and other Songs, Folk Songs from Sussex & 7 further songs
Vocal works (revised and expanded edition, 2022)
Six Songs From A Shropshire Lad
Bredon Hill And Other Songs
On Christmas Night
We Get Up In The Morn
In The Highlands
Haste On, My joys!
Crown Winter With Green
I Will Make You Brooches
I Fear Thy Kisses
Folk Songs From Sussex
Love Blows as the Wind Blows
Three juvenile hymn-tunes
The Life of George Butterworth
George Butterworth was one of Britain’s finest musicians during the years leading up to World War One, a conflict which tragically claimed his life. As a composer, he wrote exquisite music for the orchestra in addition to moving and poignant songs, especially to words by A. E. Housman. He was also an important figure in the folksong revival and one of the most talented morris-dancers (folk-dancers) of his day, being responsible for preserving many ancient dances.
He was born in London on 12 July 1885, the son of a lawyer, although he grew up in York (his father was manager of the North-East Railway at the time), before entering Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, where he read Greats (Classics). It was at Eton that he began to show musical promise, producing several compositions that were played by the school orchestra, particularly a Barcarolle for orchestra, long since lost. At Oxford, he made friends with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, Adrian Boult (conductor and founder of the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and Hugh Allen (later director of the Royal College of Music).
He joined the newly formed Folk Song Society in 1906 and enthusiastically embraced the fashion for collecting folk songs throughout Britain. He was responsible for preserving about 300 songs – fewer than Vaughan Williams, Grainger or Holst, but still significant. He was music critic for The Times for a short time, and music master at Radley College, Oxfordshire, where he was best remembered for his skill as a cricketer! It was during this time that he began to compose his Shropshire Lad songs.
He entered the Royal College of Music in 1910, but left before he had completed a full year. He concentrated instead on folk dancing, becoming in effect a ›professional‹ morris dancer (almost the only one there has ever been). The archives of the English Folk Dance and Song Society include film footage of Butterworth, with Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, performing folk dances. He travelled widely, demonstrating the technique of folk dancing, and published books of dances.
Music nevertheless remained the backdrop to all these interests. His output was never high (he was a fastidious composer, who habitually revised his work), but he completed more music than we now know. When war broke out in August 1914, Butterworth volunteered to join Kitchener’s ›New Army‹ and began to set out the stall of his life’s work; in the process, he probably destroyed several early works, including the Barcarolle.
He was eventually assigned the role of Subaltern in B Company, 13th Batallion, Durham Light Infantry, which was largely made up of miners, whose company he enjoyed. He was later temporarily promoted to Lieutenant, but not before he had been mentioned in dispatches, recommended for one Military Cross and awarded another for his actions at Pozières on 19 July 1916. On the night of 4-5 August 1916 he led an attack on part of the German line known to the British as ›Munster Alley‹, for which he won the Military Cross a second time. But just before dawn he was shot and died of a single bullet to the head; he was barely 31 years old. He was hastily buried and his body was never recovered after the war, so that today his name is one of the 74,000 inscribed on the memorial at Thiepval, listing those young Britons who died on the Somme and who have no known resting place.
Butterworth and A. E. Housman
Butterworth’s finest songs are to be found in his two song-cycles to poems from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad: the Six Songs and Bredon Hill and Other Songs. The poet’s simple and direct verses greatly appealed to many composers, and not only from this country; in fact, some American composers showed interest before their English colleagues did, one of them writing to the poet for permission to set some of the poems, and offering a fee. Permission was given, a fee refused! The first published musical settings in England (by Arthur Somervell) appeared in 1904, eight years after the poems were published. A Shropshire Lad was Housman’s first book of poems to be published. He created the central character, Terence Hearsay, a young man from Shropshire, who would come to London and, like Housman himself, live there in exile. The collection comprises 63 brief poems in which the young lad is represented as soldier, farmer, criminal and lover. These verses of nostalgic restraint soon gave inspiration to countless composers and continue to do so, even in the 21st century! In discussing the numerous settings of Housman’s poems, most writers have agreed that few composers have ever matched the simplicity and directness of Butterworth’s songs, although strong claims have been made for the highly individual songs of Ivor Gurney and C. W. Orr. Butterworth’s simple, delicate settings fully express the nostalgia and sentiment found in Housman’s verses, and it is this perfect match of poem and music which has appealed to singers and listeners alike. Butterworth set eleven of Housman’s poems, originally to be grouped in one narrative cycle, but later regrouped into two sets for publication.
Six Songs from ›A Shropshire Lad‹
This set first made Butterworth’s name famous and has since been regarded as a classic amongst 20th century English song-cycles. The cycle was completed in 1911, and the first known performance took place on 16 May that year, at a meeting of the Oxford University Musical Club, organised by Adrian Boult; the performers were the baritone J. Campbell McInnes, with the composer at the piano. The lads in their hundreds was not performed, although four songs from the later Bredon Hill cycle were included in the programme, the omission being On the idle hill of summer. The London premiere of Six Songs took place on 20 June 1911 at the Aeolian Hall, McInnes this time being accompanied by Hamilton Harty. The work was well received by the audience who demanded an encore of The lads in their hundreds, then presumably receiving its first performance. The songs were dedicated to ›V. A. BARK.‹, that is, Victor Annesley Barrington-Kennett, a contemporary of Butterworth’s at Eton and Oxford, and whose family lived in the Chelsea home which the Butterworths purchased in 1910. He, too, was killed on active service in France in 1916. In the early 1960s, the Six Songs were orchestrated by Lance Baker, son of Ruth Gipps, the composer and conductor. In his work as a whole Baker has been careful to retain something of the style of the orchestral Rhapsody. The current volume includes a new arrangement for orchestra of all eleven Housman songs, by Phillip Brookes, for slightly smaller forces than Baker’s, but very successfully maintaining the delicate nature of much of Butterworth’s writing.
1. Loveliest of trees
This Housman poem has probably been set more times than any other, and in 1976 at least 35 settings were known. Butterworth’s setting is one of his finest and best-known, its thematic material forming the basis of the orchestral rhapsody. The poem tells of a young man of twenty admiring the cherry tree in bloom, while simultaneously regretting the rapid passing of life, even with fifty more years in which to renew his admiration. The fine melodic contour of the introduction, perhaps suggesting the falling cherry blossom, sets a calm, pastoral atmosphere and leads into the poignant vocal line which forms the basis of the rhapsody. In verse one Butterworth uses what is for him the unusually wide range of a minor tenth. The second verse (bar 22), in which the young man reflects on the passing of the years, contains a very sparse accompaniment, while flowing arpeggios underline the vocal part of the final stanza (bar 32), suggesting progressions from Debussy’s Arabesque No.1 for piano (1888), also in E major. The epilogue (bar 43) develops the main theme in thirds, a characteristic Butterworth touch.
2. When I was one-and-twenty
In this simple song Butterworth took a traditional tune in the Dorian mode, the identity of which remains a mystery, although claims have been made to suggest a traditional tune called Through Moorfields. His setting of the story of the unheeding young man falling in love but despairing a year later, is a sensitive treatment of the words, the repetition of »’tis true« at the conclusion creating the appropriate hint of sadness. C. W. Orr, whose Housman settings are also renowned, was not a great admirer of Butterworth’s songs, and castigated this song for its »atrociously feeble folktune«.
Read full preface > HERE