The Music of George Butterworth and the Reception of the English Pastoral, 1910-1939


The very limited existing literature on George Butterworth pays little attention to the reception of his music. Michael Barlow’s Whom the Gods Love is biographical in focus, ending its narrative with Butterworth’s death in 1916. Ian Copley’s centennial biography is similarly concerned with the life, and its reflection in the works, of Butterworth. Paul Leitch’s article Butterworth’s Housman Re-Assessed: Lad Culture explores how Butterworth musically replicated the nuances of emotion in Housman’s poetry, and Michael Dawney’s George Butterworth’s Folk Music Manuscripts offers examples of Butterworth’s collected folk-tunes, as well as some biographical information. What is missing is an account of how people reacted to Butterworth’s music when it was first heard, or how reactions have changed over time, and what this can tell us about contemporary society.

The main body of sources used to access musical reception are newspaper articles. In 1939, 69% of the population over the age of sixteen read a national newspaper, and 82% read one of the national Sunday newspapers. Sales of national dailies increased from 4.5 million in 1910 to 10.5 million in 1939. Entertaining newspapers aimed at the lower middle-class and working-class did best: the circulation of the Daily Express grew from less than 0.5 million in 1910 to 2.5 million in 1939. The Times grew slightly in circulation from 186,000 in 1930 to 191,000 in 1937, and journals such as the Musical Times were influential despite their limited sales. Read by the majority of the population, newspapers helped to form and express opinion on the most important issues of the day. They are, in this respect, a gateway through which we can take a glimpse at past society.

The Bodleian Library scrapbook compiled by George Butterworth’s father, Sir Alexander Butterworth, includes letters from George Butterworth’s school and university days, and the Trinity College Memorial Volume compiled in his memory holds a copy of Butterworth’s war diary, both of which shed light on the context in which Butterworth lived. Both sources contain some reviews up to 1922, which supplemented the sample of around 275 articles I collected from the Manchester Guardian (MG), the Times, the Musical Times (MT), the Musical Mirror, the Daily Express (DE), the Daily Mirror (DM), the Listener, and the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) from around 1910 until around 1939. Unless otherwise indicated by reference codes, these articles were accessed through their respective online archives.

The varied titles were necessary in order to gauge how specialist journals, broadsheet newspapers, and tabloid newspapers reacted to Butterworth’s music, and to measure the range of the population his music reached through live performance, published works, and radio broadcasts. How far the articles represent public opinion must be realistically assessed. Caution and careful analysis are vital in order to avoid attaching too much importance to links between comments made about the music, and similar but unrelated national and international developments.
Newspaper articles written about George Butterworth reveal the changing emotional connections between the audience and his music. These sources show that Butterworth’s music was part of an intense cultural rivalry before and during the Great War, as economic and imperial competitiveness shaped the way music was viewed. The latter stages of the Great War created a nation in mourning, which gathered around physical monuments and cultural symbols, such as Butterworth became, as part of a mass grieving process. A reflective, sorrowful character in reviews became commonplace after 1916, conveying this period of mourning, and faded away after 1923. The Great War was also a catalyst for changes that had been developing over a much longer period of time. When, in the 1920s, it became clear that a superior post-war world had failed to emerge, the idea of 1914-1918 being a necessary sacrifice melted away. There was a shift in emphasis towards the performance of Butterworth’s vocal settings of pastoral poetry, which used folk-songs for melodic influence. The nostalgic yearning for the pre-1914, pre-industrial world often present in other genres in the 1920s and 1930s is not prevalent in reviews of Butterworth’s instrumental music. Reviews tend to emphasise the quality of performance, and despair at the retained dominance of foreign works. Throughout the period these emotional connections interacted with the ever-present reality of music being a money-making business fraught with financial risk. There were also those who saw a distinction between cultural heritage and nationality, believing that music, as a form of art, is separate from national sentiment, and therefore the best music, rather than the best English music, must be performed for the preservation of high standards. Using the viable scope of articles relating to George Butterworth, it is clear that the nature of musical criticism is largely shaped by the surrounding social, political, and economic context. These articles shed light on the English musical world, and can at times show us the social and political concerns of the wider population in the early-twentieth century.

This article is divided into four chronological sections, which are sub-divided thematically. The first section uses Butterworth’s letters from his time at university (1904-1908) and evidence from newspaper articles to identify the English musical context in which Butterworth composed. The second charts the reception of Butterworth’s music during the period 1910-1916, comparing its reception either side of the outbreak of war in 1914. Section three evaluates the effect the Great War had on the way in which music critics, conductors, and audiences emotionally identified with Butterworth’s music, as well as the reasons for this change between 1917 and 1923. The final section, covering the period 1924-1939, analyses the rise in popularity of Butterworth’s songs, and the importance attached to the quality of the performance, and the nationality of the composer.


MS.Eng.c.3269 Bodleian Library Special Collections, MS. Eng. c. 3269
MS.Eng.c.453 Bodleian Library Special Collections, MS. Eng. c. 453
TCA Trinity College Archive, Oxford

George Butterworth’s World

The prevailing characteristic of the musical world in which George Butterworth grew up was that it was dominated by foreign, primarily German, composers. In the realm of music, ‘foreign’ was synonymous with ‘better’. A German musical education was essential to musicians serious about establishing a career for themselves in England. Butterworth’s school friend ‘Speyer of Eton’ went up to Balliol College, Oxford in 1905 ‘after 2 years’ studying in Germany’. The German musical education lived up to its reputation, and Speyer was soon ‘performing a Beethoven sonata at the Balliol concert, with great success’.

The programmes of the concerts Butterworth attended as a student convey the German dominance in the concert hall. In February 1906, despite Edward Elgar visiting Oxford, the real interest and ‘only excitement of the week’ was the Fritz Kreisler concert. A section from the London Symphony Orchestra played Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart’s Symphony in E flat, which Butterworth referred to as ‘a very old friend’. In another letter to his parents, Brahms was Butterworth’s choice of example of one who produced ‘the highest art’, and general musical musings of Butterworth’s revolved around Bach’s chorales, which ‘seem to me the perfect thing, and it is a pity there are not many more’. Concert halls around the country exhibited the same trend. In London, on 16 March 1912, the Queen’s Hall Symphony Orchestra conducted by Henry Wood played a concert ‘dedicated to Wagner’, which included eight of his works. In Manchester, during April 1912, the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Walter Handel Thorley played Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Beethoven alongside two of the conductor’s compositions. The London Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven’s ighth symphony, Brahms’ second symphony, Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto, and Brahms’ ‘St Antonii’ variations on 27 January 1913. Some composers were so often played that previews of forthcoming concerts gave just the title of the work, relying on the reader to know who wrote it. The Saturday evening of the 1913 Leeds Musical Festival was dedicated to ‘Elijah’; a work which it was assumed would be instantly recognisable to readers of the Times as being by Mendelssohn. Any divergence from such well-established programmes was often received with suspicion. In Birmingham, Mr. Thomas Beecham shared his love of Russian music by conducting the Birmingham Philharmonic Society in Balakirev, Franck, Mozart, and Rimsky-Korsakov in 1913. The less well known Russian works ‘did not specially appeal to the audience’.

New, especially English, works seldom found the opportunity to break into the regular concert-hall programme due to the deteriorating financial viability of musical performance before 1914. Concerts were returning less in profit as audience figures steadily declined. The concert losses of the Manchester Society amounted to £600 in 1909-10, £1,066 in 1910-11, and £387 in 1911-12. It was reported that subscriptions had dropped from approximately £6,000 in 1905-6 to £4,600 in 1913, which was ‘entirely due to the decrease in the number of subscribers for the highest-priced seats’. In this precarious financial situation the tendency was for works from established musical nations, rather than from ‘Das Land ohne Musik’, to be played. At the last concert the programme consisted of music by the German composer Richard Strauss alongside Erich Korngold and Anton Bruckner, who were both Austrian. The Daily Express regretted the financial reality facing the Leeds Musical Festival, and the fact that the committee replaced an English conductor with ‘a foreigner’. But, it went on, ‘funds are necessary’ to the festival’s ‘salvation’ and the only way to increase the number of receipts was by ‘engaging artists whose names are financial assets’. At Mr. Ellis’ first concert of modern orchestral music, held at the Queen’s Hall on 20 March 1914, the programme (which included Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad, and The Banks of Green Willow) ‘ought to have drawn a better audience than it did’. Reluctant to attach too much significance to the small audience, the reviewer stated that Ellis’ enterprise was one ‘which we hope will gain fuller support from the public at the two concerts which take place next week’, and planned a ‘return to a further discussion of their achievements when the series is completed’. Diminishing attendance figures hit concert halls particularly potently during the time in which Butterworth’s first performances were heard, because before the emergence of mass media exposure the potential audience for classical music was relatively small, and narrow in scope. Even the largest London concert halls were not that big; the Royal Albert Hall could seat 8,000, the Queen’s Hall 3,000, and St James’ Hall 2,000. The public concert was exclusive, and therefore drew support from a narrow social group. This meant the concert hall was particularly vulnerable to any change in that group’s preferences; the suburban middle classes sought varied entertainment such as the theatre, music halls, luxury restaurants, supper rooms, and hotels, which provided intense competition for the concert hall. In response, promoters were inclined to include old tried-and-tested favourites rather than risk a further decline in attendance by granting debut performances to the works of English composers.

Dwindling subscription figures were only part of the financial problem, however. Writing in 1912, a journalist from the Manchester Guardian explained that orchestral concerts were ‘much more expensive’ than ten years ago. The cost of the orchestra for each concert rose from £105 in Sir Charles Hallé’s day to £140 in 1912. Compounding this problem was the fact that orchestras grew in size to cope with the demands of newer works, the ‘complexity’ of which required ‘more rehearsal time’. In the 1912 Manchester season, eight extra rehearsals were scheduled, costing £400, which according to the conductor Mr. Balling, was still not enough to maintain the highest standard of performance. Such a climate affected the way in which Butterworth’s music was experienced by the public, as the financial insecurities of the concert hall extended to all aspects of the music business, including publishing.

Between 1911 and 1913 Butterworth’s choral music and art songs were first published, whereas his instrumental pieces, lacking the reputation of a name like Beethoven, Wagner, or Brahms, were neglected by publishers such as Augener and Novello. Before 1914, publishers allowed for a small number of high risk publications that might not make money, but relied on oratorio, musical comedy, music-hall, parlour songs, and simple piano and educational music to make steady sales, with Novello specialising in selling and hiring large numbers of parts to choral societies. Subsequently, Butterworth’s On Christmas Night All Christians Sing, an unaccompanied variant on the well-known Sussex Carol, was published in 1912 by Augener, and the traditional harvest song We get up in the morn, also unaccompanied, was published in the same year. Both of these folk-song arrangements, along with a setting of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson for female voices and piano called In the Highlands (also published in 1912), were published soon after being written, which suggests that they may have been composed with financial gain in mind. They were certainly published for it. The Cycle of Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (1911), Bredon Hill and Other Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (1912), and Folk Songs from Sussex (1913) comprised Butterworth’s art music published between 1911 and 1913. The Catalogue of Printed Music in the British Library recorded the separate publication in 1913 of Come, my own one, the fifth song from Folk Songs from Sussex, which was evidently popular enough to sell by itself.

The folk-revival, with which some of these works are connected, was bound up with an interest in the countryside, specifically the pastoral rural past. However, beneath such general interests lay division between Cecil Sharp, prominent among collectors of folk songs, and those who disagreed with his seemingly arbitrary distinction between genuine and false folk-tunes. For many who accepted Sharp’s expertise and authority on ideas about the folk, engaging with what were believed to be unchanged folk-tunes from centuries past provided relief from an industrialised, commercial, degenerate world which was seen to have corrupted the national character. In an article of 1913 about English song writers, including Butterworth, Rutland Boughton wrote that ‘in these days of transition from the evils of industrialism and professionalism to the joys of a freed people, it is a glad sign that the natural music line of the folk-melody should be used again’. Butterworth’s music, making extensive use of folk-song, was in turn bound up with the ideas emerging from folk revivalists.

Butterworth’s involvement with the folk-revival flourished during his time at university. In 1906 Butterworth wrote: ‘I took tea yesterday with Vaughan Williams’, and ‘showed him our folk songs’. Keen to ‘send them up to the Folk-song Society’ and see them published, this interest of Butterworth’s was an important step in his musical development. Folk-song and dance provided him with the ‘most delicious’ and ‘first rate’ entertainment during one memorable display in the ‘small Queen’s Hall’. The emotional connection between the performers and the music was ‘most refreshing’, and inspired Butterworth to continue collecting songs, with the aim of saving enough to bring out a volume of the ‘Folk Song journal on my own account’. This interest in folk-song extended its influence, for Butterworth, to classical music. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ friendship was vital in consolidating within Butterworth the idea that music, although cosmopolitan in appeal, must be national in its origin of inspiration, and folk-songs provided the ideal national stimulus. Cecil Sharp, with whom Butterworth was also friends, held that ‘training English musicians to lisp in the tongue of the foreigner can have no beneficial outcome’. This was a Romantic nationalism which aimed to re-discover the lost sounds of the rural English past; a past uncorrupted by overgrown towns and a debilitated population. The contradictions of Cecil Sharp’s theories on folk-song and the folk in general have been challenged and the historiographical debate is ongoing, but regardless of whether Sharp was right or wrong, the idea of harnessing a fresh musical idiom had a real and positive impact on English music. Vaughan Williams believed that folk-song gave Butterworth the ‘freedom’ to discover his own style, and ‘throw off the fetters which hindered his earlier efforts’. Butterworth’s relationship with folk-song was not simply one of imitation and alteration. Folk-song ‘formed a nucleus which focussed his hitherto vague strivings’. Vaughan Williams’ observation is telling, as some of Butterworth’s most popular music, in particular the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad, exhibits the influence, rather than the direct use, of folk-song.

The rural countryside provided for A. E. Housman what folk-song offered Butterworth. The idea of Shropshire enabled Housman, in A Shropshire Lad, to express Romantic pessimism in his clear, direct style. Housman’s Shropshire was a county of the mind; he had not visited when he started writing about it, and subsequently some of his descriptions did not actually match the physical Shropshire countryside. The idyllic pastoral atmosphere of Housman’s verse celebrated landscapes that seemed to be disappearing in the early twentieth century. His presentation of themes such as love, sorrow, and death made his verse widely appealing, and the setting of Shropshire, like folk-song, fed a growing hunger for the idealised stability of the rural past in a world of imperial rivalry, uneasy peace, and rapid social change. George Butterworth’s musical compositions, connected to Housman’s verse, were written at an intriguing point in history. The long-standing German dominance of the English concert hall was joined by a fresh force of folk-song revival which began to breathe new life into English classical music. The balance between these forces, and the ever-present financial considerations of musical performance, was slowly shifting.

Early Reception and the Great War, 1910-1916

The early reception of Butterworth’s music forged tangible links between the musical context and wider national and international developments. The folk revival was shaped by Cecil Sharp to address a series of social and cultural crises, including problems of public behaviour, commercialisation of culture, urbanisation, and war. The dominance of German music in the English concert hall bred complex feelings of awe, wonder, and delight infused with jealousy, inferiority, and inadequacy. Imperial rivalry from 1871 saw international economic and political tensions played out in the musical arena, and English columnists felt the need to secure for England a musical identity of its own; an identity that could hold its own against German music. In this climate of intense international rivalry, putting England on a musical par with Germany became an important aspect of journalism in the years before the outbreak of war. For a young musical nation like England, similarities with the great musical Germany were favourable and generous. In a review of Augener’s publication of Butterworth’s Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, Bredon Hill and Other Songs, and Eleven folk-songs from Sussex the reviewer declared that Housman’s A Shropshire Lad poems ‘are an irresistible attraction for English composers as Heine’s are for German composers’. It is true that Butterworth, following Arthur Somervell, Vaughan Williams and other English composers, had begun to compose musical settings of Housman’s poetry, but in 1914 suggesting that Housman commanded comparable interest to Heine was stretching the point. Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wolf, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner had all set Heine’s verse to music by 1914, and Housman’s verse has not yet collected a comparable list of such prestigious composers. By associating these two poets and their influence on music, reviews such as these began to build and establish a musical reputation for Britain and, in particular, England.
The encouragement of England’s musical reputation was characterised by commentary which focussed almost exclusively on the technical quality of English music. The same review held that Butterworth’s settings expressed ‘individuality’, and showed ‘classic grace and purity of form and outline’. The same approach was taken by reviews of performances, which assessed the strengths as well as shortcomings of Butterworth’s compositions, with tentative and sometimes excited expectation of what this young man may contribute to English music in the future. The Times noted the way in which ‘the composer has caught the reckless mood of the words very happily’ and applauded the ‘pathetic suggestion of the last line’ in Is my team ploughing. The Morning Post was unwilling to dwell in the present and impatiently claimed that this recital ‘contained more promise of future success than proof of present attainment.’ Reaction to Butterworth’s orchestral music was no different. In February 1912 a public classical concert was held in Oxford, at which Butterworth’s Two English Idylls were heard. These works, according to the Times, were not yet quite ‘sure in touch’, but were ‘of the highest promise’ and exhibited ‘great individuality of harmony and orchestration and a singularly fresh and subtle imaginativeness’. In October 1913 his Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad was performed on the Thursday morning of the Leeds Musical Festival. The performance was ‘excellently played and sympathetically received’, and described by the correspondent for the Times as ‘a charming little piece full of suggestive colouring’. The Yorkshire Post was similarly impressed with a score that showed ‘no weak places’, hailing Butterworth ‘a musician of considerable accomplishment’. The Daily Telegraph emphasised the nature of the work as ‘more of a promise than an actual achievement’ and the Morning Post again felt that the ‘imaginative and resourceful’ music was ‘chiefly remarkable for its promise of development in due course’. Through an accumulation of such reviews the musical reputation of Butterworth, and consequently the musical reputation of English music, began to grow.

As well as an expectation of what the future Butterworth could offer English music, the emotional relationship between the reviewer and Butterworth’s music before the outbreak of war was one of delight and happiness. The programme of Mr. F. B. Ellis’ concert of modern orchestral music on 20 March 1914 contained the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad and The Banks of Green Willow, which both ‘gracefully’ developed ‘the poetic feeling of the beautiful melodies’, and a critic from the Daily Mail found the performance ‘charming’. Although it would be anachronistic to suggest that people in Edwardian England saw themselves as part of an age of innocence soon to be lost, the use of such words encapsulates the minds of people whose experience with Butterworth’s music seemed much less reflective and sombre. Not all golden memories of this period are accurate, and urban squalor had concerned social investigators since the 1880s, but it is notable that a society which had experienced a century of peace and had been infused with the ideas of ‘progress’ subsequently failed to engage with the feelings of futility, the death of youth, sorrow, and irony overflowing from Butterworth’s compositions.

The balance between the competing mentalities in Edwardian England regarding classical music was shifted by the outbreak of war. The poet Edward Thomas travelled around England in 1914 recording the various reactions to war, which ranged from patriotism to indifference. What is clear from Thomas’ observations is that there was no unified war cry from the population. However, the military division between Britain and Germany was to some extent replicated culturally, as composers from allied nations stood to benefit from many concert programmes that catered for those who saw Germany as the cultural enemy.

At the outbreak of war, the total number of concerts declined, and references to Butterworth are subsequently lower in number until his death in 1916. Of those concerts that were organised, many were patriotic and conscious of wartime divisions, and often made up of English or allied music. In Bournemouth, one of the three ‘Monday Specials’ concerts was devoted to Russian and Slavonic composers, one to French, and one to British. Such concerts were ‘extremely popular’, as music was expected to play its role by raising morale at home. The ‘Music in Wartime Committee’ protected the interests of British music. Several orchestras, hotels, and restaurants fired German and Austrian musicians. Newspapers encouraged the depiction of Germany as the cultural, as well as military, enemy, and projected the idea of Germany as the aggressor, taking advantage of vulnerable neighbours like Belgium. Such images, and consistent use of language depicting victimised nations and civilians, meant that by 1915 large sections of the population saw the fault for the war as lying with Germany, and consequently refused to listen to German music. For some, even making money was less important than the nationality of performed music. The English composer Arthur Bliss, whose musical education was interrupted by the war, wrote in to the Pall Mall Gazette in order to praise ‘Edwin Evans and “Musicus” for their championship of English music’. For him, the military fight on the continent should be fought culturally ‘against the predominating influence of Germany at home’. Bliss found it ‘unseemly that a fine institution like the London Symphony Orchestra should have to put its financial security in front of its national feelings’. Such opinions did not go unheard. Nineteen works new to the Promenade concerts were introduced during the 1917 season, among which nine were British (including Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad), five were Russian, two were Spanish, and one work each was from France, Finland, and America. The patriotism of Bliss represented the feelings of swathes of the classical music-listening population.
Competing with national sentiment was the idea that art and music were separate from military conflict, and that music should be performed and promoted based purely on its quality. In late 1915, the first part of the Promenade season experienced ‘varying fortune as regards audiences’, but it was ‘evident that there is no general reluctance to listen to Wagner’s music or to the works of the “classic” composers, even of the Teutonic brand’. Similarly, the 1917 season often surrounded the new British works with old favourites; Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad was performed alongside works by Weber, Mozart, and Berlioz. What emerged was an environment in which German music still maintained its headline status, yet its choking effect on new British works receded. The link between the war and music was reflected in Butterworth’s involvement as both a composer of English music and a soldier in the British army. The Musical Times conveyed this link to its readers in its ‘Musicians in the Army’ column in the early stages of the war. This noted Butterworth’s service in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and articles in general made increasing reference to ‘Lieutenant’ Butterworth’s music. The war was thus important culturally, acting as a vital force in loosening Germany’s grasp on music in England, and encouraging the independence of English musical life.

Butterworth’s war diary and letters relay the monotony and boredom of the trenches and belittle the perils of war, which perhaps reflects the contemporary, and traditional, public school values of self-sacrifice and chivalry. Having been in the fire-trenches three times, ‘twenty-fours at a stretch’, he had seen ‘only one shell burst’, and had not yet seen a dead man, a wounded man, a German, or a gun. His account of war in late 1915 records the experiences which live in modern memory: having to occupy the trenches through rain, snow, and ‘MUD’, although it was only the latter that seemed to dampen Butterworth’s spirits. Trench living did not seem to bother him that much: ‘I slept excellently each night I was in’, and ‘I was able to get a decent amount of rest’. Despite not seeing much action, the fighting was always nearby. Butterworth noted that ‘we hear the artillery at work practically all the time’. He seemed to take the situation in good humour, writing that ‘usually it is simply a gun or two trying to annoy somebody’. On the odd occasion that there was a ‘concentrated “strafe” for half-an-hour or so’, Butterworth and his fellow soldiers ‘all sit up and wonder if someone is trying an attack’. The constant danger of sudden death seemed matter-of-fact rather than psychologically damaging: ‘and of course there is always a chance that we may be shelled ourselves. But no one minds that.’

In 1916 Butterworth was exposed to more action and a greater degree of danger. Despite this, his acceptance of his situation did not seem to change. After the War Office sent a telegram to Butterworth’s parents reporting their son as ‘wounded’, he soon wrote home, on 27 July 1916, dismissing his experience with a small fragment of shrapnel as ‘a slight scratch’. Rather than belittling the horrific experience of the trenches, the deafening noise, the dreadful conditions, the proximity of death, the explosions that left men twitching and wincing in later life, Butterworth’s diary portrays the war as a necessary sacrifice. The questions about the war’s validity, and doubts about its honour raised by many veterans writing their memoirs in the 1920s shaped the nation’s memory of the Great War, but in Butterworth’s case these were not part of his immediate reaction to the conflict. Ideas of patriotism and chivalric sacrifice pervaded the wider population, which meant that Butterworth’s music was understood through its charm, its melodies, and its technical quality. From 1916 however, after the war had smashed these pillars of Edwardian discourse, Butterworth’s music was comprehended in tremendously different ways, revolving around ideas of pointless war, sacrifice of youth, and the regret of unfulfilled promise.

Mourning the ‘Lost Generation’, 1916-1923

The Great War was a powerful upheaval that devastated ‘the old belief of nineteenth-century Europe in the progressive power of man to control his destinies’, and aligned the experiences of virtually the whole population. Perhaps 3 million people in a country of less than 42 million lost a close relative, son or brother. The secondary bereaved, who mourned the loss of a colleague, friend, cousin, or neighbour, encompassed the entire population. This was compounded by 200,000 Spanish flu fatalities in England and Wales soon after peace was signed. The middle classes had higher enlistment rates in 1914 and 1915, and most became officers, whose casualty rates were twice those of their men.

In 1918, the Times recalled David Lloyd George’s defence of the Eisteddfod during the summer of 1916, when he asked ‘Why should we not sing during the war?’ In his view, ‘sweet song is a song of triumph over pain’. But rather than curing pain and acting as a distraction, Butterworth’s music was part of the wider social process of mourning. This encompassed nostalgia for the pre-war, even pre-industrial world, and the idea of Butterworth as a representative tragic figure, who had sacrificed his promising musical career for what seemed a worthy but was in fact a futile cause. The enthusiasm and keen expectation of what Butterworth would go on to achieve was smashed by his death at the Somme, which represented the broken hopes of the lost generation. In this way Butterworth as a tragic figure, and his tragic music, was widely identified with on an emotional level from 1917. This was not because each reviewer or letter-writer was personally close to him, but because after the suffering of the Great War, anyone who came into contact with Butterworth’s story could acutely relate to the projected image of him as one cut off from greater achievement. Just like Housman’s Shropshire, Butterworth’s potential musical greatness was imagined, and existed in the mind. In reality, Butterworth’s production of music had been irregular and stilted, and there had been no guarantee that he would shine as a leading light in the English musical renaissance. Perceptions of Butterworth tell us more about those who formed them and identified with them, than they tell us about Butterworth himself.

The reaction to Butterworth’s death centred on his life cut short, and his unfulfilled potential. He was ‘only thirty years old’, and despite having achieved ‘many things’, ‘greater were expected’. This was the typical press coverage of Butterworth’s death, focussing on his achievements as signs of a brighter future, not only for Butterworth personally but for the English musical nation as a whole. He was a man of ‘great promise’ who ‘would undoubtedly have done much to further a national ideal of musical art in this country’, had he not ‘given his life in a greater cause’. Another young Oxford musician, F. S. Kelly of Balliol, was remembered on the same terms as Butterworth anmd linked to him, as a musician ‘of the younger generation’ who was destined ‘to contribute to the renaissance of English music’, when the war cut short his, and Butterworth’s, ‘expanding power’. Lieutenant Reginald Tiddy of University College, Oxford died, like Butterworth, in August at the Somme. He was ‘closely connected’ with Butterworth and Cecil Sharp in taking forward the folk-song and dance movement. One in four Oxford and Cambridge men under the age of 25 died in the Great War, which along with the high officer casualty rates, meant that the idea of the ‘lost generation’ was particularly apt for this class.

Understanding of the pre-war buy aciclovir online uk world altered in the aftermath of death. Lucy Broadwood’s emotional letter written to Sir Alexander Butterworth captured the mood which inhabited the minds of those who had witnessed not just the disruption of an English musical revival, but the decimation of a generation. Broadwood felt that ‘the pre-war compositions of our younger composers’ seem ‘like something prophetic of the present tragedy of the world’. Stress, turmoil, ‘the sound of battle, the fateful, solemn, marches, the call of trumpets, the pathos of the quiet church-yard, and the triumph of the spiritual’ were recognised as ‘so strangely and movingly present in nearly all that they have written’.

Despite the larger proportional loss of certain sections in society, an inclusive, national community of the bereaved was facilitated by memorials, which quickly became popular as focal points within villages and towns, helping the bereaved to mourn and ultimately disengage from the dead. Butterworth was remembered in memorials including those at Thiepval, Deerhurst (where Butterworth’s grandfather had been Vicar), the Royal College of Music, and Radley College, where Butterworth had taught. Although perhaps only a small part of the total commemoration activity, the nature of a memorial as a visible monument encompassing the shared feelings of a wider community reflected the way in which Butterworth’s music became part of the mourning process. The Times claimed that the whole country felt ‘to be in a larger sense prisoners of war’, which affected culture: ‘Library statistics tell us that poetry has never been read so much as during the war’. Although it may seem strange that music could find a place ‘in a world turned topsy-turvy’, there was in 1916 ‘a steady flow of about two good concerts a day, with all the undercurrents of music that this implies’. The wider population, at least those interested in reading poetry and listening to classical music, developed more intimate personal connections with works of art that expressed loss, sorrow, and death. Such themes were supplied by composers like Vaughan Williams, Henry Walford Davies, and George Butterworth. In 1919 The Banks of Green Willow was described as ‘less personal’ in emotion than the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad, whereas before 1916 none of Butterworth’s music was engaged with in personal terms.

On 6 September 1917, at the Queen’s Hall Promenade concert, Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad was interpreted by those who heard it as particularly ‘British’ sounding music. Synonymous with this definition were images of picturesque countryside and images of nature, which had hitherto been a neglected aspect of Butterworth’s pastoral compositions:

The haze and heat of a spring day, the fragrance of the bloom, the beauty of life on such a day, all seem in this music, a most worthy example of the great talent of a musical son this land, now ‘gone west’ ere his prime.

The Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad conveyed ‘a sense of stored-up impressions of pastoral England in which love and tenderness are blended in the mellow light of memory’. The Morning Post declared that ‘Lieut. Butterworth’s melodic idiom has the outstanding merit of being British’. The Pall Mall Gazette defined this ‘British’ sound as the ‘English flavour’ gained from the folk-song idiom. Such an influence made the music ‘pastoral’, ‘meditative’, and tinged with the same ‘peculiar sadness’ that is ‘so fascinating’ in Housman’s poetry. Images of nature were infused with the sadness of his shortened life, which encouraged reflections on Butterworth’s promise as an English composer with ‘no possibility of its fulfilment’: The Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad’s ‘deep feeling for the English countryside’ was ‘beautifully understood’ by George Butterworth, shown through the ‘undercurrent of rustic melancholy’ in his music.

Rather than ‘delightful’ or ‘cheerful’, the music was now ‘picturesque’ and brought to mind ‘Daintiness, bloom and beauty: the beauty of a warm spring day’, all the things which make up a ‘British atmosphere’ conveyed through ‘British melody’. Performance reviews which before 1916 had been so emotionless, so intent on forging a serious musical reputation for England, were from 1916 overcome with sadness when addressing Butterworth’s promise which ‘alas! can never be fulfilled’. In 1921 Mr. Charles Neville sang ‘the Housman songs of George Butterworth’, which oozed ‘poignancy of expression’ and ‘tenderness that brings the thought of flowers’, bringing to mind the ‘beauty and fragility’ of humanity. The England in the minds of these reviewers was conspicuously pastoral. The longing for such a place was a result of long term economic industrialisation and the short term horrors of industrialised warfare, which had thrust forth the image of pastoral England’s antithesis. When Paul Nash recovered from the injuries he suffered in the trenches, he painted what he had seen in Flanders; namely a ravaged, brutalised, murdered landscape which had been ruined by mechanised warfare, apparent in Rain: Lake Zillebeke of 1918. The Morning Post declared that Butterworth’s music, on the other hand, established ‘the true atmosphere of England, of rural England, the real England’. Butterworth’s ‘purely English mind’ drew its ‘main nourishment’ from ‘English scenery, English literature, and the purest English music of the past’. His music ‘breathes the very soul of the English nation at its best’.

The reception of Butterworth’s music developed in the same way all over England. After a performance of Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad at the Hallé concerts in Manchester, the Manchester Guardian reported that Butterworth ‘broods with an exquisitely tender regret on the sheaf of homely melodies which were fated to be almost the whole harvest of his too short life’. The Manchester Guardian’s correspondent at the Brand Lane concerts described the Rhapsody as ‘poignant, delicate, and intense’, ‘poignant’ and ‘tender’ became the preferred adjectives used to describe the music during the period 1916-1923. The increased relevance of Butterworth’s musical messages led the Musical Standard to proclaim that the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad was a ‘national treasure’. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad also seemed to benefit from the increased relevance of its themes.
As Butterworth became more widely known, it is natural that publishers would show more interest in publishing his works. A setting of Shelley’s I fear thy kisses was published in 1919, with settings of R. L. Stevenson’s I will make you brooches and Oscar Wilde’s Requiescat following a year later. Bredon Hill was re-published by Augener in 1920, and Novello published Love blows as the wind blows, a set of four untitled songs from W. E. Henley’s Echoes, in 1921. Butterworth’s instrumental works were also published in this period, the first being the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad in 1917, which remained the most frequently performed of all his works throughout the inter-war years. The Banks of Green Willow was published in 1919, and Two English Idylls followed in 1920. This surge in publication, coupled with Adrian Boult’s recording of the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad (released by HMV in 1921), reflected a wider cultural shift, also reflected in the painted arts which moved away from modernism after the Great War and towards a return to the traditional and the pastoral in an ‘understandable desire for tranquillity’.

This period witnessed a sharp increase in the total number of Butterworth concerts and recitals reviewed in newspapers, suggesting a general increase in the performance of English music. That the increased frequency of performance owes much to the growth of Butterworth’s reputation is irrefutable, but the change in the emotional connection between audience and music is equally undeniable. Subsequently, concert programmes loaded with English works and published scores of English music became financially viable. For example, Sir Henry Wood conducted twenty new works during the 1921 Queen’s Hall season, ten of which, including Two English Idylls ‘by the late George Butterworth’, were from British composers. The increased popularity of English music was reflected in popular literature. In the serialised story The Mystery Husband by A. J. Russell, published in the Daily Mirror in 1923, Eve Sturdee manages her husband’s business at home. After a concert which was ‘expected to show a profit of at least thirty pounds, showed an adverse balance of fifty’, Eve is moved to cancel a similar concert arranged for the next week. However, after mentioning to an ‘influential’ daily newspaper a forthcoming concert at which ‘only English music will be played’, the conversation moves with ‘renewed interest’ onto the ‘ever-green subject of English composers and their compositions’. The ‘widely-circulated newspaper’ advertises the forthcoming concert, and there is ‘not an empty seat in the Hall on the following Friday’ as the profit amounts to £250. This story is revealing because of the newspaper’s obsession with providing content that would engage and entertain (in this case female) readers across the nation and ultimately boost circulation.

In the immediate post-war years, the pre-occupation with musical standards in England seemed to shift slightly from the composer to the performer. The Manchester Guardian’s special correspondent at the Blackpool Musical Festival of 1922 was disappointed with the standard of the baritones who sang Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing. Many baritones exhibited ‘resonant tone’ in the Silver Rose Bowl Contest, but nine out of ten made ‘a fearfully lugubrious matter of the music’. Spiritless singing was, in the correspondent’s opinion, ‘a sin surely against high art’. Similarly, the idea that art should never be constrained by nationalist sentiment underlay the more dominant idea of an English musical renaissance. One writer in the Observer argued that ‘Mr. Holst, if he feels like it, is quite justified’ if he wrote ‘an English suite on native Japanese airs. The only thing that matters is whether the writing is good or bad; and Mr. Holst’s happens to be particularly good’

Despite the increased programming of British compositions throughout the Great War, as early as 1918 there were those who were left dissatisfied and called for a greater proportion of concert programmes to be devoted to native work. An article in the Times deplored ‘the Press’, which believed that ‘British music is worthless’ and that ‘to play British works is to empty a concert room’. This commentator believed that audiences were cold to these works ‘not as much as because they are British’ but ‘because they are new’. The answer was to play them more often, and so ‘Don’t let them be new’. All that British composers got ‘as a rule’ was a first performance and no more. Consequently, as a musical people, ‘we have for the moment lost our first wind and have not yet got our second’. A grim picture of the state of native music in Britain was depicted by a minority of dissatisfied, impatient, commentators. But the frequency of performances of Butterworth’s music, coupled with the majority of reception in the newspapers, tells a different story. The very same article immediately proceeded to recognise that ‘Last night’ the London Symphony Orchestra, under Mr. A. C. Boult, ‘gave us the first of an enterprising series of concerts’ giving the British public the opportunity of ‘hearing their own composers.’ Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony was performed alongside Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. The impatient recognition of the upward curve in the popularity of English music was soured by the retained influence of ‘Teutonic’ works.

Rural England and the Modern World, 1924-1939

The development of the radio forged a wider audience for various types of music. By 1937, 68.5% of the population were estimated to be able to listen, and Britain had 9 million radio set licenses issued by 1939, bought mostly by people earning modest incomes. Butterworth’s music had a wider potential audience through the wireless, but classical music still had to compete with jazz and popular music, which catered to the tastes of the majority. Increased purchasing power, coupled with the emotional and material strains of war, generated demand for popular entertainment in the 1920s, especially among the young. By 1939, 23 million people attended 5,000 cinemas each week, with some 990 million tickets sold that year. New fashions and a larger consumer market meant that the competition for products intensified, and bitter rivalry ensued amongst the ‘circulation-getter’ newspapers, which dedicated space to celebrity gossip, advertisement, crime, and sport. In consequence, Butterworth received much less coverage in the popular press than in the broadsheet newspapers. Whereas in 1929 the Manchester Guardian gave details of the upcoming Promenade performance of Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow, the Daily Mirror gave no such detail. Instead, the small notification of the Promenade season was surrounded by adverts for kitchen cleaner, hair tonic, and skin cream, and headings such as ‘Many Dead in Typhoon’ and ‘Captives released’.

Although general debate over English classical music flowed in the popular press, there were relatively few references to Butterworth in particular, and the extent of his popular audience was almost certainly very narrow.
Swimming against the tide of commercial culture and decreasing profits were attempts to locate a wider public for ‘highbrow’ art. In 1924 the Rochdale Corporation put on ten cheap concerts costing sixpence for ticket and programme, made possible by private funding and free use of the Town Hall. Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing, Bredon Hill, and Requiescat were included alongside three Beethoven items, and music by Brahms, Bantock, Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Brahms, Debussy, Fauré, and Vaughan Williams in programmes that were met with ‘immense enthusiasm’. In the hall, seating 975, average attendance numbered 920, proving that ‘the finest music may be offered without hesitation to a “popular” audience’. The ‘entire loss’ was over £78, but the prior financial arrangement made the concerts viable, and word of the concerts ‘spread throughout the North of England’, with many enquiries received ‘as to the details of finance and management’. The radio was also utilised for this purpose by the BBC and John Reith, who became director general in 1927. Compton Mackenzie defended the BBC’s monopoly over the radio as the best means of securing high quality programmes, and the famous contralto Dame Clara Butt believed the wireless would create ‘a vast new body of intelligent listeners’. For example, at the Wireless Station in 1924, J. P. Russell organised a ‘historical’ series of concerts from English vocal music which included George Parker singing the ‘exquisite’ and ‘poignant’ songs of Butterworth and Ireland. In 1936 Ellis Roberts’ radio programme broadcast Handel, Bach, and Mendelssohn alongside Sullivan, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and George Butterworth. Initiatives such as these, coupled with the development of Butterworth song recitals from ‘unique’ in 1916, to commonplace and ‘better known’ in the 1920s and 1930s, furthered what was seen by the critic ‘S. L.’ as the wider process of the ‘vitalisation’ of English song.

From 1924 ‘folk-song, in its simple state or as a basis for choral music’, became a feature of competitive festivals, and the ‘folk-dance’ was ‘steadily making for itself a similar place’. The ‘popularity with the audience’ of these forms was an exciting development, especially when ‘an unexpected result was the tapping of a large new public’. Butterworth’s songs became a popular choice for festival competitions. Thus, in 1922, the Blackpool Musical Festival’s involvement of sixty-four baritones who sang Butterworth’s cycle from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. In the same year, the British Empire Music Festival was inaugurated with the aim to ‘encourage and revive public interest in British music’. The Lytham Music Festival in 1933 fused the performance of classical song composers such as Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms with English folk-song composers like Butterworth, Vaughan Williams, and Cecil Sharp. In 1934, the Lytham St. Anne’s Music Festival assigned one British composer to each class of voice, and the tenors were given Butterworth. The popularity of these festivals fluctuated, often linked to the offer of cash prizes. At the 1928 Barnsley festival entries fell from 442 to 346 after it was decided that no money prizes would be offered, and there was also a marked decrease in the number of choir entries in Carlisle, Chester-le-Street, Devonshire, and Mansfield.

The aspects of Butterworth’s music associated with folk-song were highlighted in various reviews of professional performances, too. A critic from the Times emphasised that the ‘folksong characters’ of Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad settings must ‘never be forgotten’. Likewise, the Musical Times enthusiastically reviewed John McKenna’s performance in 1936 of some folk-songs, with Butterworth’s Come, my own one the ‘best of all’. Other programmes exclusively revolved around folk song, such as Muriel Nixon’s afternoon concert at the Æolian Hall in 1925, which contained two of Lucy Broadwood’s folk-song arrangements, two by Sharp, one by Vaughan Williams, and The True Lover’s Farewell and Come, my own one arranged by Butterworth.

Many people invested in the idea that, through folk-culture an older, nobler, truer England could be stirred. This ‘imagined community’ became a powerful tool for national identity, and was part of a general reaction against modern society’s commercialism, urban degeneration, and international distrust. Writing in the Daily Express, Helen Swaffer complained that films and gramophones were ‘Americanising’ the world, and ‘destroying the traditional beauties of our country’. As more people witnessed the countryside through rambling, hiking, and cycling, the national rural image was captured by Stanley Baldwin when he said that ‘To me, England is the country, and the country is England’, and George Orwell further recognised the correlation between agricultural decline and idealised countryside in his review of The Way of a Countryman by Sir William Beach Thomas. The general cultural picture is often characterised by anthologists’ collections of eighteenth-century verse, tourists pausing in lay-bys to consult newly written guidebooks, Paul Nash’s megaliths, Graham Sutherland’s landscapes, Edward Bawden’s copper jelly moulds, Bill Brandt’s photographs of literary Britain, and Florence White’s regional recipes.

But not everyone who felt anxiety about urban degeneration, world war, or commercial culture turned to folk song, and those who did were part of a gradual process, as folk-culture remained unfamiliar to most. The All-England Folk Festival of Folk Song and Dance of 1927 attracted 900 people, and the programme consisted of many songs and dances collected and transcribed by George Butterworth. Many people were ‘acquainted for the first time with the songs and dances’, and the folk-singing suffered from ‘ignorance of the songs on the part of the audience’. Furthermore, reception of Butterworth’s recital and concert hall music largely contradicts the supposed general cultural yearning for a pre-1914 world. Apart from Sir Hugh Allen’s reference to Butterworth as ‘one of the most talented’ sons of Oxford ‘who had fallen in the War’ before performing The Banks of Green Willow and a short cycle of three songs at the 1930 Oxford Festival, allusions to Butterworth’s death and lack of fulfilment were rare between 1924 and 1939. References to the countryside and picturesque images were similarly unusual, barring one review which described the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad as a ‘piece of watercolour music’

Instead, reviews focussed on the technical quality of the performance, and bemoaned the lack of native talent allowed onto programmes. Performing Butterworth’s songs at Wigmore Hall in 1919, the voice of Mr. Johnstone-Douglas was ‘too much studied’ and lacked ‘spontaneity of effect’, whereas John McKenna’s performance in 1936 ‘found the apt lilt’ for them. Some support for English music seemed to attempt to exaggerate its standard when compared with foreign works. Under the headings ‘Fine English Music’ and ‘Native Composers’ Triumph at Queen’s Hall’, the English music on show at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert in 1927 was pronounced ‘predominant and triumphant’. The performance of Bax’s music was ‘competent rather than inspired’, yet it somehow ‘completely overshadowed the well-worn Tchaikovsky and Grieg with which it shared the programme’. Sir Thomas Beecham shared this expectation of Britain as a deserving leader among musical nations in 1928, when he protested that Great Britain had deteriorated ‘immeasurably’ over the last twenty-five years, and English orchestras which ‘used to take rank with the best in the continent’ had lowered their standards. From this competitive thinking emerged headings such as ‘Battle for British Music’, utilising the words of warfare in a cultural sense. Complaints of the lack of English music, especially at the Promenade concerts, which gave a chance to ‘scarcely any’, increased in the late 1920s and 1930s, and in 1931 Julius E. Day asked why publishers were ‘still shy of native talent?’ One disgruntled letter sent to the Daily Express by Arthur Beckett claimed that ‘two-thirds of practically every concert programme to which the public listen is composed of items by foreign composers’.

These complaints were not without foundation. In Birmingham, the City Orchestra opened its 1924 season with programmes dominated by Brahms, Strauss, Mendelssohn, Dvorák, and especially Beethoven, varied by Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. ‘Modern music’, the Musical Times correspondent for the 1925 Promenade concert series wrote, ‘retreats before the Hindenburg line of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart’. Bach and Handel shared the freedom ‘of alternate Wednesdays’, Haydn and Mozart enjoyed a symphony each on Tuesday mornings, Bach had an organ work every Saturday, and eight of his concertos ‘crop up on other evenings’. Such programming was characteristic of the Promenade concerts throughout the period. In 1939 Mondays were, as they had been for ‘years’, devoted to Wagner, although Butterworth was included at an evening recital alongside Busconi, Kodály, and Bartók. Miss Mary Jarred’s recital at the Æolian Hall in 1929 consisted ‘mostly of German Lieder’, Schubert, Strauss, and Wolf, preceded by Purcell and ‘varied by George Butterworth’s cycle of four songs’, Love blows as the wind blows. In 1930 at Wigmore Hall, the same song-cycle of Butterworth’s found a place alongside Handel, Brahms, Debussy, and Dvorák, and the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad appeared next to Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and Beethoven’s fifth symphony at the Bournemouth symphony concert in 1933, with Butterworth’s songs heard alongside those of Schubert, Brahms, and violin sonatas by Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms. When English music was overlooked, the reasons were typically financial, as ‘most musical ventures’ were ‘fraught with financial risk’. H. G. Amers claimed that the musical festival at Eastbourne ‘always tried to give the young English composers a chance’, but there was ‘not much notable English music’ that had recently been written, explaining the foreign nature of the 1927 programme. Amers also employed English composers ‘when we can’, but would not sacrifice quality for the sake of nationality. Wagner, Elgar, and Brahms were the ‘notable’ elements of the festival programme, and the benefit of advertising such names was evident. A. E. V. Dennis, the entertainments manager, calculated the advance sales and expected the 1927 festival – the fifth annual – to be the ‘most successful festival we have held yet’.

On balance, the foreign ‘classics’ were more often sharing the concert programme with ‘native’ works such as Butterworth’s that had built up a high-quality reputation for themselves. Butterworth’s name was consistently put next to the likes of Mozart, Handel, Brahms, Schubert, and Wolf, while his settings of Housman were considered ‘the best yet’ by Stanley Bayliss of the Musical Mirror. Butterworth’s settings were used as a standard against which other composers could be judged. C. W. Orr’s seven songs from A Shropshire Lad appeared in the summer of 1934 and were considered to lack the feel that Butterworth had: ‘If the poet leads us there with a gentle hand on one arm it is not for the composer, on his side, to tug at the other. Far better a composer who feels the power of that reticence and makes himself at one with it as Butterworth did’.

The perceived quality of Butterworth’s music was inherent in concert programming, too. Mr. Everard de Peyer performed ‘several songs’ by Bax, Parry, Warlock, and Butterworth as well as Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, and Strauss during the 1928 season of the British National Opera, and the young baritone Robert Wright chose to perform Bantock, Vaughan Williams, and Schumann alongside two Butterworth works at the Tudor Galleries in 1926. The 1926 Promenade concert programmes showed that although Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, and Wagner were the most prominent composers, ‘It was pleasant to notice on September 25 that such things as Delius’ “Brigg Fair,” Holst’s “Planets,” and McEwen’s “Grey Galloway” are now regarded as sufficiently popular for performance on Saturday nights’, and George Butterworth’s ‘fine-feeling’ Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad found its place next to Wagner on the programme for Monday 4 October. In the north during 1929, Sir Hamilton Harty conducted the Hallé Orchestra in Schubert’s C major Symphony and Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow in Bolton, and the Hallé’s February Manchester concerts included Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, pierced by Butterworth’s work.

With the encouragement of important individuals like Henry Wood and Adrian Boult, new English music was able to demand large proportion of concert programmes both at home and abroad. At the 1921 International Music Festival in Zürich, Wood conducted the Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad, which ‘made a most profound and deep impression upon the Orchestra and the public, and the various press opinions were very much in its favour’. In 1922 Boult conducted Two English Idylls in Vienna, the first Idyll in Barcelona (which was liked ‘immensely’), and an unnamed ‘work of Butterworth’ in Prague, which ‘made a very deep impression’. The Pioneer realised that these developments ‘slowly but surely’ extended the ‘knowledge and appreciation of British music’ on the Continent. Later in the period, Butterworth’s Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad was heard in Toronto (1928), Mühlacker, in Baden-Württemberg (1931), and Montreal (1936), as well as another Boult performance in Salzburg (1935). The growing reputation and extending international audience of Butterworth’s music, and English music in general, was to some extent reliant on the influence men like Adrian Boult could wield, but the reactions of foreign audiences to the music of George Butterworth reflected the reality that England was no longer Das Land ohne Musik.


When war came in 1939, the images of a discovered England became things to protect, to fight for, as people wanted to see something of their country, or what they pictured their country to be like. This idea was expressed in Woolf’s Between the Acts (1941), T. S. Eliot’s return to ‘significant soil’ in his poem sequence Four Quartets (1943), and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). During the Second World War the BBC attempted to limit the amount of ‘enemy’ music broadcast on the radio, and in the 1940s ‘programmes of music by British composers killed in the last war’ became more popular. Initial evidence suggests that, as in 1914, Butterworth’s nationality encouraged radio and concert programmers to play his music in the 1940s much like in 1914. Further study on Butterworth’s musical reception would contribute to the understanding of cultural developments and their external driving forces through the Second World War and the Second Folk Revival.

The social response to film, literature, art, music, and all aspects of culture reflects the morals, priorities, customs, and emotions of a society. In this way, cultural history aims to capture the spirit of an age. Having died in 1916 and not composed after 1914, Butterworth took no part in the dialogue of the reception of his music, making its transformations, namely the intense emotional connection between 1916 and 1923, more revealing of the audience. Other studies suggest that this age in England witnessed a cultural reaction against the evils of the modern world that, in the shape of Germany, were seen as a threat to the nation’s pre-eminence and even entire way of life. The cultural war which emerged on a European level was indeed visible in the reception of Butterworth’s music at home. Such national rivalry, mixed with dissatisfaction at the number of English works on programmes, remained consistent albeit fluctuating with varying aspects of the reception of Butterworth throughout the period. The post-war developments of other cultural forms saw Richard Nevinson and Paul Nash become war artists without a war. The desire to invoke tradition was a reaction to the crisis decade of the 1930s which began with the Great Depression and ended with bombing on London. Other reactions to such crises included documenting unemployment and social realities, carried out by the likes of George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier. The relatively limited pastoral yearning in the reception of Butterworth adds greater definition to the general cultural picture in the 1920s and 1930s. It is important to place Butterworth within this wider cultural context, where parallels and differences may be drawn between different artistic expressions in order to capture a more accurate reflection of the spirit of early-twentieth century England.

Gareth Roddy


Manuscript sources

Bodleian Library:

Album of letters and papers, 1913-22, concerning Butterworth, compiled by Alexander Butterworth, MS. Eng. c. 453.
Papers of George Butterworth, mainly letters to his parents, 1899-1917, given to the Bodleian Library by Margaret Croft in 1992, MS. Eng. c. 3269.

Printed Primary sources

Butterworth, Sir Alexander (ed.), George Butterworth, 1885-1916 (Memorial Volume), (privately printed, York and London, 1918), sent to Trinity College Archive by Lady Butterworth in 1946.
Baillie, L. (ed.), The Catalogue of Printed Music in the British Library to 1980 (London, 1982).
Sharp, C. Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London, 1907).
Vaughan-Williams, R. National Music and Other Essays, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1987).


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Boyes, G. The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival (Manchester, 1993).
Briggs, A. The BBC: The First Fifty Years (Oxford, 1985).
Copley, I. George Butterworth, A Centennial Tribute (Inverness, 1985).
Crump, J. ‘The Identity of British Music: The Reception of Elgar, 1898-1935’ in Colls, R. and Dodd, P. (eds.), Englishness: Politics and Culture, 1880-1920 (1987).
Dawney, M. ‘George Butterworth’s Folk Music Manuscripts’, Folk Music Journal, 3 (1976), pp. 99-113.
Eksteins, M. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London, 1989).
Firchow, E. & Nugel, B. (eds.), Reluctant Modernists: Aldous Huxley and Some Contemporaries (London, 2002).
Francmanis, J. ‘National Music to National Redeemer: The Consolidation of a ‘Folk Song’ Construct in Edwardian England’, Popular Music, 21 (2002), pp. 1-25.
Fussell, P. The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford, 1975).
Gammon, V. ‘Cecil Sharp, Education and the Folk Dance Revival, 1899-1924’, Cultural and Social History, 5 (2008), pp. 75-98.
Gammon, V. ‘folk Song Collecting in Sussex and Surrey, 1843-1914’, History Workshop Journal, 10 (1980), pp. 75-8.
Gregory, A. The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (Cambridge, 2008).
Hajikowski, T. The BBC and National Identity in Britain, 1922-53 (Manchester, 2010).
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Haycock, D. A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War (London, 2009).
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Hollis, M. Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas (London, 2011).
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Leitch, P. ‘Butterworth’s Housman Re-Assessed: Lad Culture’, Musical Times, 140 (1999), pp. 18-28.
Lemahieu, D. ‘The Gramophone: Recorded Music and the Cultivated Mind in Britain between the War’, Technology and Culture, 23 (1982), p. 387.
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Mackay, R. ‘Leaving Out the Black Notes: The BBC and Enemy Music in the Second World War’, Media History, 6 (2000), pp. 75-80.
Orwell, G. ‘Inside the Whale’ (1940) in Carey, J. George Orwell Essays (London, 2002).
Orwell, G. ‘Review of Way of a Countryman by Sir William Beach Thomas’, in Carey, J. George Orwell Essays (London, 2002).
Page, N. A. E. Housman: A Critical Biography (London, 1996).
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Sykes, R. ‘The Evolution of Englishness in the English Folksong Revival, 1900-1914’, Folk Music Journal, 6 (1993), pp. 446-490.
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Other sources
Online newspaper archives:

The Manchester Guardian, 1901-1959, accessed on ‘ProQuest Historical Newspapers New Platform’, via SOLO
Musical Mirror and Fanfare, 1929-1931, accessed on ‘ProQuest British Periodicals Collection 2 New Platform’, via SOLO
The Musical Times, 1903-2009, accessed on ‘JSTOR Arts & Sciences 3’, via SOLO
The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2007, accessed via SOLO

British Library electronic resources:

Daily Express 20th Century Archive, 1900-2000.
Daily Mirror Digital Archive, 1903-present.
The Listener Historical Archive, 1929-1991.
Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, 1902-2006.

Wilfred Brown’s “Folksongs”

The tenor, Wilfred Brown, will, for many listeners, have a still unassailable position as an interpreter of Gerald Finzi’s songs, in particular Dies Natalis. Many consider his recording of this work, in 1963 under the direction of the composer’s son Christopher, to be the finest. By that stage Wilfred Brown had already come to be revered by many singers and conductors as more than an outstanding Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach; he was indeed considered by many specialists as ‘non pareil’ in this role. A talented linguist before he became a professional musician, Wilfred was a singer who believed it essential to articulate text with the clarity of full understanding. He was a man of spirituality, a quality which suffused his performances and recordings of oratorio especially.

What many may not know is that Wilfred also wrote several witty, and beautifully crafted contemporary or topical folksongs and ballads, with which he would often end his recitals. This side to his performing personality would have been a surprise even to many of his close colleagues who had never heard his recitals. Soprano April Cantelo, with whom Wilfred sang and recorded in The Deller Consort from 1953 until 1961, confirmed that he was not one who engaged in the usual banter between singers on tour, although he was always lovely to talk to. He was the one to whom all knew they could turn if there was anything significant or serious to discuss. While never aloof, this reserve, which other singers such as Dame Janet Baker also noted in him, derived not from a lack of humour but in essence from the fact that Wilfred was a perfectionist. The detachment which marked his approach to an engagement was part of his focus towards the creation of the perfect performance, a preoccupation which his wife Mollie knew obsessed him.

If to members of the Deller Consort there was so often an air of detachment in Wilfred’s demeanour, this was utterly understandable in the context of touring, since he was, together with Maurice Bevan, an honorary travel agent of the Deller Consort. In this capacity, it was Wilfred’s task to ensure that the ensemble reached their venue at the right time. This distinct responsibility must have kept him engaged in thinking ahead, wondering if connections would be made, and whether the accommodation would indeed be satisfactory and available as booked. He must have spent much time worrying whether he had remembered to complete the myriad tasks needed in arranging travel and accommodation in an era, the 1950s, when the frequency and the abundance of air travel was much less extensive, even if available.

Others, such as Robert Wardell, who with his friend John Carol Case accompanied Wilfrid to many engagements in England, enjoyed many fascinating discussions during such journeys. He explains Wilfred’s detachment as follows: “He seemed perpetually serious, and even his smiles were “serious smiles” if that makes sense. I suppose if you rationalise it most jokes have a victim, and Bill could never be unkind in thought or deed.” The seriousness to which Robert Wardell refers flowed in large part from Wilfred’s respect for his fellows, which in essence vitiated any cheap humour that would find its mark at the expense of others; this was a concept completely alien to him.

If Wilfred’s way of looking at the world was based upon a regard for the validity and worth of others which simply did not admit such unkindness, it did not at all impede his fascination with the absurdities of circumstance which the world at large presented. Indeed his sense of humour was suffused with delight in the ridiculous and the bizarre. The love of the surreal had perhaps developed in him especially during the exigency of war-time, Blitz-torn London. This was a time when many, not just professional comics such as Spike Milligan, must have found humour a natural antidote. Wilfred was no exception, as the Reverend W.D. Kennedy Bell, later Director of Religious Programming for The World Service confirmed in a tribute to Wilfred on Radio Three in 1972. He talked of Wilfred’s humour in the following terms: “His self-confessed ‘overdeveloped sense of the ridiculous’ was quick to seize on the fantastic or absurd story in the newspaper and turn it into a highly amusing ballad.” As an example of his love of the ridiculous, there is a delightful story of a colleague and Wilfred, both young Friends’ Relief Service workers, picking over a bombed house for items to salvage. They came across a badly damaged piano on the first floor. Having tried unsuccessfully to play it they pushed it out of the first-floor window “to see if it sounded better when it hit the ground”!

Later, Wilfred proved to be a writer of compelling and often trenchant short talks for the Religious Affairs department at the BBC. At the same time, the brilliant wit which in part derived from his linguistic background found expression in his recitals. Wilfred had been highly regarded as a Classicist at school, but had studied German and French at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1949. The wonderful ease of Wilfred’s way with words provided a formidable tool with which to inform his presentation of many ludicrous snippets of news with glorious hilarity in his recital programmes of the 1950s and 60s. Many of these songs have survived in long-hand drafts, several with origin and date, from which Wilfred would have sung. Each would form a concluding recital item, invariably as an un-programmed encore. All were set to the rhythms of well-known folk-tunes or ballads, the originals of which Wilfred might even have performed earlier. Anonymous folk-songs were all composed by someone, Wilfred once told a student, but in performance he could deliberately omit that these examples were actually by him! There are many one could adduce here. They cover a vast collection of subjects, frequently intensely topical, such as the progress of a current cricket Test match series. Some are timeless re-workings of moments of hubris in the never-ending vastness of human fallibility.

This calypso-like example describes the tension of the current Test series in June 1963 and shares the nation’s adulation of fast-bowler Freddy Trueman:

Freddy’s Revenge

Come all you sporting fellows that love the bat and ball,
And listen to the story I tell to one and all
Concerning of those famous games in nineteen-sixty-three:
West Indies versus Eng-er-land . – Ah Fred’s the man for me.

At Lord’s the second test-match had every sort of thrill:
You never saw a finer game, no more you never will.
But weep for Cowdrey’s forearm, consigned with many a tear
To a place in British history next door to Jenkin’s Ear.

Ted Dexter – he’s our captain – he put Fred on to bowl.
Hunte faced him from the Nursery End. But horrors, bless my soul!
He smote Fred for a boundary; not one, nor two, but three…
Thirteen off that first over…..Is Fred the boy for me?

Those runs made all the difference, but, dusky foes, be warned
That hell it hath no fury quite like a Trueman scorned.
He took a load of wickets, and we drew the game. But see
He’s still to get his own back. – Yes, Fred’s the boy for me.

Fair stood the wind for Edgbaston, and time to start again.
We watched a little cricket and bucketfulls of rain.
The soggy midland wicket robbed many of their luck,
For no-one scored a century and three men made a duck.

The BBC excelled itself: alert, precise and fair,
And streams of Arlott’s rhetoric came rolling through the air.
For Butcher’s strokes were wristy, Ted drove imperiously,
And Wesley Hall danced every ball. – But Fred’s the boy for me.

On the fifth day at 12.40 our good Lord Ted declared.
Now Frank (says he) ‘tis your turn. Fred’s bowling. Don’t be scared.
Just score a run a minute, stay in till after tea.
But Fred’s all set, I’m warning you. – ‘Tis Fred’s the boy for me.

Two early wickets tumbled and panic seized the chaps.
By 3 p.m. Fred organised a Caribbean collapse.
His afternoon’s analysis read seven for forty-four.
Hip, hip, hooray! And Happy day! Could England ask for more?

God bless you Freddy Trueman; your honour’s satisfied,
You’ve proved you’re indispensable to any English side.
We’re level in the series and bound for Headingley.
So take the ball and bowl ‘em all. And on to victory!

[Alternative last half line: You ARE the boy for me!]

Alongside this paean of praise for a heroic sportsman can be found the delectable account of the hubris faced by judges handing out a sentence to a burglar, while something amiss was happening in their vestibule:

The Ones That Got Away

Mr Justice Milmo, Mr Justice Blain
Being High Court judges, this I should explain –
Enter gaily The Old Bailey on Ascension Day
To the Queen’s Division wend their solemn way.

But while they’re dispensing dire judicial doom
There’s a prowler prowling round their robing room
Oh so cheeky, oh so sneaky, sniffing out the loot
Bold intruding robber frisks each classy suit.

Mr Justice Milmo, Mr Justice Blain
Now you’ve lost your wallets, cash and watch and chain
Mr Milmo soon you will go for your Horsham train
“Lost your season ticket? You must pay again!”

Naughty mister robber this you’ll do no more
New locks have been fitted to the judges’ door.
God helps those that help themselves, so when your case how to order accutane online falls due,
If you land Blain or Milmo, then (brother) God help you!

Wilfred’s facility with words makes a tantalising ambiguity out of the proverb ‘God helps those that help themselves.’ Delightfully understated, the moment of irony is delicious, as is his mock seriousness at the robbers’ future fate should they come before the same judges again.

The tale of three intrepid camping girls was another piece of verse written in response to a small snippet of news. Having set off on a camping holiday from the concrete factory where they worked, the girls arrived at their first-night accommodation, relieved at last to divest themselves of the heavy load under which they been struggling all day;

Excess Baggage

(Tune: Kingsfold)

Come all ye bold hitch-hikers and listen if you please:
This is the tale of Sheila and Janet and Denise.
They work in a concrete factory in Widnes, Lancashire ,
They said: “It’s coming Easter; let’s go to Windermere”.

“We’ll go to work on Thursday; then, when we’ve done our shift,
We’ll set out from the factory and thumb the nearest lift.
Wi’ any luck, by nightfall we’ll reach the camping-site;
We’ll need our tents and bedrolls, so keep your luggage light.”

They went to work on Thursday complete with all their gear.
They stowed it in the office where none could interfere.
But someone knows the secret. A lowdown chance he sees
To make life hard for Sheila and Janet and Denise.

The whistle blew for freedom. They grabbed their bulky packs,
And off towards the motorway they made determined tracks.
But in between the hitches – for girls get lifts with ease –
There’s something worries Sheila and Janet and Denise.

“My back is nearly breaking”, says Sheila tearfully.
“I thought the same”, says Janet, “Me too”, adds little D.
They stagger into Windermere, worn out and on their knees,
Then straight to sleep fall Sheila and Janet and Denise.

So on Good Friday morning they waken bleary-eyed.
“Why are those packs so heavy? Let’s take a look inside.
And soon they solve the mystery. – Wrapped round with shirts and socks,
Each finds, to her astonishment, three six-pound concrete blocks.

The bloke who put them in there must mind his Qs and Ps,
“We’re out for blood”, says Sheila and Janet and Denise.
“For there’s no finer exercise for biceps, we dare say,
Than humping chunks of concrete along the Queen’s highway”.

Fittingly, although Wilfred leaves the story at the point of discovery, he sets up the most delectable prospect of the girls, now much stronger of muscle, planning how to get equal with their tormentor!

Then there was the hilarious story of the mis-spelt white line instruction! Local to his home in Petersfield, the protagonists would possibly have been known to members of the audience in his recitals there. It must have given Wilfred much delight to be able to describe the moment of hubris in this story of the irascible, domineering foreman. Wilfred abhorred pretension, airs and graces in all people, and especially among his fellow musicians and artists. Yet he ends his account of this event not with glee at the humiliation experienced by the wretched foreman, but with an expression of generosity. That was the mark of a man for whom slap-stick humour was too cheap. Wilfred was compassionate to a fault.

(Tune: The Garden Where the Praties Grow)

Ye citizens of Petersfield, I’ll ask you to give ear
You’ve noticed how from time to time new traffic signs appear.
But have you ever thought about the chaps that paint the signs
Or spend their lives a-painting all those white and yellow lines?

Then bow your heads in gratitude and thank the powers above
For all the selfless gentry who toil with skill and love –
The clerk and the Surveyor and the Treasurer and me
And all the other mooshes in the U.D.C…

There was me and Nosey Parker and Ged and Joe McGrew.
Old Nosey, as the foreman, told us what we had to do.
“Today we’ve got some lettering, we’re going to paint the SLOW
Where the small road joins the big one by the G.P.O.”

The staff was soon assembled, and we set off for The Square.
We set up boards with “Men at Work” and “No thoroughfare”,
And Nosey went on hands and knees in attitude devout,
And solemnly produced the chalk and said, “I’ll sketch it out”.

Now Nosey was no scholar, and though it sounds absurd,
He seemed uncertain how to spell this four-letter word!
And when he’d finished scrawling we observed with shame and woe,
He’s gone and spelt it S, then L , then W, then O.

We wondered, should we paint it out? But knew it wasn’t wise,
He used to lose his temper if we dared to criticize.
I winked at Ged, Ged winked at me and we both of us winked at Joe.
When Nosey ordered: “Paint her in”, we said “Right Ho”.

He went and got his hair cut while we did the whiting-in.
We really did a lovely job, and then ‘twas time for din.
Then all you worthy burghers came crowding all around.
And in the council offices the ‘phones began to sound.

“You rotten lot”, says Nosey. “I think you might have said”.
But Nosey – you’re the foreman. We thought you might see red.
Then, everybody makes mistakes. But now you’ve seen the light,
We’ll go and turn the letters round and set the matter right.”

So bow your heads in gratitude and thank the powers above
For all the selfless gentry who toil with skill and love –
The clerk and the Surveyor and the Treasurer and me
And all the other mooshes in the U.D.C…

These moments of delight in the absurd, or in the triumph of just deserts, hardly carry with them a sense of ‘Schadenfreude’ or even the passing of judgement on his fellows. There was no sense in which Wilfred ever appears to have been ‘holier than thou’. Nor was he in any sense a prude, as is evinced by his delightful ‘Folksong’ lamenting the ban on mini-skirts imposed at a famous Oxford College. The reader notes with some amazement the aplomb with which Wilfred slips in the profoundly erudite synonym for calf, namely ‘gastrocnemius’; perfectly apposite of course to a topic exemplifying the collision of the world of modernity with the groves of high academia.

Save Our Skirts

[Tune: Traditional Scandinavian]

Miss Janet Vaughan, D.B.E.,
– the Head of Somerville is she –
Last summer passed the stern decree,
Ah me, alas, alack…..
That ladies sitting their exams
Should not wear clothes that showed their hams;
It might distract the men (poor lambs!)
To see a mini-skirt.

Parisian haut-couturiers
Now say the skirt has had its day,
Just when we thought ‘twas here to stay.
Ah me, alas, alack….
But I know some who will refuse
To countenance such dismal news;
Some men take quite decided views
Upon the mini-skirt

Now what young ladies choose to wear
-which bits to hide, which bits to bare –
Is strictly speaking their affair.
Ah me, alas, alack…..
A shapely gastrocnemius
On tube-train, bicycle or bus
Is really no concern of us.
-What is a mini-skirt?!

So if you care how girls are dressed,
It may be in your interest
To raise your voices and protest
Ah me, alas, alack….
Dear Mr Michael Stewart, please
Extend your wage-and-prices freeze
To fix the height of ladies’ knees
And save the mini-skirt.

Once again we have a gloriously farcical conclusion, typical of Wilfred’s delight in the absurd. He not only implores the then Secretary of State for Education, with mock seriousness, to resolve matters of fashion in universities, but, wonderfully and impossibly, to legislate even further. Wilfred well understood the issues, and the song takes evident delight in the beauty of the youthful female form, but his own way of looking at the world is perfectly shown: with great good sense he indicates that sartorial matters are of no importance, but issues of freedom and equality most certainly are.

One of the most poignant of these compositions is the ‘Folksong’ entitled When I was Young and in my Prime. It is undated, but was undoubtedly composed towards the end of Wilfred’s life when he knew his days were numbered. It concludes with a re-working of part of his will, which he recounts in a moment of bathos as a spoof moment of triumph; a perfect lightening of touch. The verse starts by recounting the moments of magic as a young man in the full flowering of love. Yet to continue this otherwise wonderful memory to its conclusion would have been mawkishly inappropriate for the conclusion of a recital, so the song changes tack, almost abruptly, to introduce a reference to a love-death, couched in delectable euphony, coupled to the thorny issue of what to do with the body, once dead!

When I was young and in my prime
With energy to spare
I’d bike a hundred miles a day
Provided she was there.

At night beneath her window
I’d whistle chunks of Brahms
Till she came tripping down the path
To land up in my arms.

Now I’m old and done for
My joints begin to creak
The girls are getting prettier
My hearing’s rather weak.

In days of song and legend
In one grave we’d have lain
So from the mouldering lap of love
A rose might spring again.

But burial’s outmoded
It clutters up the church
So I’ve signed away my torso
For medical research.

My eye I’ll give the eyebank
-I laughed to get the forms –
At least when I’m anatomised
I’ll cheat the wiggly worms!

Humour at the expense of self often shadowed his writing, but not in any falsely modest sense. Wilfred never over-stated his own significance, yet he understood well his own worth and what he could contribute.

Stephen Duncan Johnston

Cambridgeshire, January 2015