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'GREAT IN WHAT HE ACHIEVED, GREATER STILL IN WHAT HE PROMISED'.Aug. 25 2015
- Published on Amazon.com
An exceptionally well-written, thoroughly documented biography covering the complete and unfortunately short life of George Butterworth (1885-1916). All of Butterworth's surviving works are discussed along with an examination of his friendship with Vaughan Williams and the poet Housman from which he derived several of Housman's poems, the most notable of which are the setting of the six songs from The Shropshire Lad. It was this cycle that led me to find out more about Butterworth; it's incredible beauty combined with Housman's very attractive poetry makes the entire package irresistible to the singer, as well as the audience as later proved by the wide popularity of the song cycle. This, combined with the pathos created by the fact that this talented young composer just beginning his career was killed three weeks after he joined the Army by a German sniper along with several others of musical potential. WHAT A DEVISTATING LOSS TO THE MUSIC WORLD. And this "the war to end all wars"!
But the book does not dwell on this aspect, but instead gives us the succinct picture of Butterworth's background, both family and education. The author uses many footnotes, more than I used, but I did check what I considered to be important in the overall picture. I was really not much interested in his heritage, but many no doubt would be interested. It did focus on the three periods, short though they were of his composing life and I learned a great deal by this portion of the book , which also included detailed examples and explanations of his individual compositions.
The Folk Song era for Butterworth was the 2nd compostion period which I found particularly fascinating be cause it spoke of his association with many of other well-known composers interested in the Folk Music Revival; Cecil Sharp (also killed in the war), Vaughan Williams and several others. Since I knew little or nothing about this period in music in England, it made for interesting reading. Included were comments about the relationships and some were quite humorous. One that I will include herein was made by the poet Housman when he discovered that Vaughan Williams had omitted two verses from is musical setting of the song "Is My Team Ploughing?" (This is one of the Shropshire lad Songs in which a ghost is communicating with a live friend- A WONDERFUL SONG). In The V.Williams setting he leaves out the words: The goal stands up, the keeper Stands up to keep the Goal; The composer's view was that any poet who had written such lines as those should be grateful to have them left out, a remark not made directly to Housman, but to a friend; Housman's response was "I wonder how he would like me to cut out two bars of his music." Even the 'greats' can go at it!!!!!!
The book moves forward clearly and at a reasonable pace; it stays with the story and includes many photographs of Butterworth and other involved in his life. If you are a singer, especially a baritone, for that's what the songs were written for, but of course he did write instrumental music as well. The last composing period was when he focused on instrumental writing and before he was killed wrote two significant instrumental pieces, as well as many other musical compositions. All are listed in the book. Everything you want to know about George Butterworth is herein.
"In all of Butterworth's output, the man and the music are inseparable. He was very much a man of the English countryside, as was Housman whose verses so fired the composer's imagination. ......Butterworth was no innovatory composer, nor was his music very influential, but he will remain an important minor figure with a reputation based on a handful of works, the sincerity and musical value of which assure him a place in the history of English music."