BOOK REVIEW: Whom the Gods Love - the life and music of George Butterworth by Michael Barlow  Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 42 6 £25.00



This is a book that, for obvious personal reasons, I have been wanting to read for many years; That it has not been possible to do so until now is simply that it is only recently that an obviously devoted and resourceful author has come forward to fill this tantalising gap in the general history of English music.   It has often been something of a burden, to be an English composer in the latter part of this Twentieth century, whose name has almost always been overshadowed by  and frequently confused with that of his far greater namesake: the subject of this splendid book. There was however, an occasion when this writer sought lessons from Vaughan Williams who remarked:...."Your family name means much to me, for George Butterworth was one of the best friends of my youth, he was a very fine composer indeed," The family name then, must have stood me in good stead that day, for VW did briefly teach me and offer some of the soundest advice a young composer could ever have had.

Nonetheless, over the years many people have asked if in some way there is a connection with George Kaye Butterworth. This book hints at a possible answer. It lies, still as ever tantalisingly, on page 18 of Michael Barlows study, where the family pedigree is set out, but alas, inevitably leaves many question marks as to distant cousins and other relations. All that one has ever been able to deduce - from comments made in childhood - seems to be that there was some tenuous family connection with railways in the north of England, and that the Butterworth clan originates from Rochdale and its environs, where my own branch of the family come from. Musically, however, there is no evidence at all that any connection can be claimed.  On the other hand, no younger composer of the English tradition can really claim not to have in some measure been influenced by the example of George Butterworth.  As this book makes clear, his painstaking care in the surely oft-time laborious task of notating the very essence and character of English music is something those of us who go along with this tradition, must be greatly indebted to.

Mr Barlow's study displays something of the same meticulous care in the way so much hitherto unpublished material has been researched.  He not only tells us things that most of us could not have known about Butterworth himself, but about a whole host of his contemporaries, so many of whom were lamentably of that lost generation between 1914 and 1918. There are details of the composer's early years, Eton and Oxford and comments from those, such as Sir Adrian Boult, who knew him well.

However, it is the account of Butterworth's enthusiastic involvement with English Folk Song and Dance, that is probably the most revealing. The handful of orchestral works are reasonably familiar to most British audiences, but few could have known how extensive Butterworth's practical interests were: his expertise in morris dancing and keeping alive what would have otherwise soon disappeared into musical oblivion.  Mr Barlow analyses with great skill many of the features of folk song as collected and then eventually moulded by Butterworth into exquisite song, We are given insight into the way Vaughan Williams' "London Symphony" came about, and the especial influence Butterworth had on its gestation.

Finally, there is the account of Butterworths short but heroic military career, when a modest young man, one of the flower of his generation, was killed in a battle; a loss which has been felt in English music ever since.


Arthur Butterworth

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Arthur Butterworth

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