George (Sainton Kaye) Butterworth


George Sainton Kaye Butterworth was born on July 12th, 1885 and grew up in York, where his father was a solicitor and later General Manager of the North Eastern Railway.  Butterworth attended Eton and then Trinity College, Oxford, reading Greats (a course covering classics, history etc.), but found music more appealing.  After a time spent studying at the Royal College of Music, he turned to collecting folk songs, sometimes with composer Ralph Vaughan Williams who he had met at Oxford.  In 1914 Butterworth joined the Durham Light Infantry, and fought in the trenches in WWI.  He was commended for bravery, won the Military Cross, and led a raid during the Battle of the Somme.  He was killed by a sniper's bullet there on August 5th, 1916.

Butterworth left behind the three orchestral works Two English Idylls (1911), A Shropshire Lad (1912) and Banks of Green Willow (1913), as well as songs and choral music and several arrangements of Morris dance tunes (of which he was very fond).  His music is very simple but very affecting, superbly expressing the pain and futility in his setting of  A.E. Housman's poem about the Boer War (A Shropshire Lad), or evoking a bucolic countryside in the folk-inspired Banks of Green Willow.

As well as a promising young composer, Butterworth was an important contributor to folk music collections, and a fine folk dancer.  He was also a brave and reliable leader during the war. Incredibly modest, he kept quiet about his musical abilities in the army, and didn't mention the Military Cross to his family in his letters.

Related composers: Vaughan Williams, Holst, Finzi

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