Wednesday, 3 June 2009

George Butterworth: an early review of his songs.

I found this early review of George Butterworth’s Songs in the Musical Times whilst browsing in the Royal college of music Library. It is worth reproducing for its generally positive approach to these fine songs.

Six songs from A Shropshire Lad, Bredon Hill and other songs. Eleven Folk-songs from Sussex. By George Butterworth. [Published by Augener, Ltd.]

A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad poems appear to possess as irresistible an attraction for English composers as do those of Heine for German musicians. Mr. Butterworth's settings are especially worthy of careful study if only for their striking individuality, and for the admirable use made of folk-song idiom.

In a brief review it is impossible to indicate the many beauties of these songs, but taking them as a whole, the chief impression left upon the mind is one of classic grace and purity of form and outline rather than of warmth of colour and rich embroidery. In many of the songs the accompaniment consists of only an occasional simple chord or arpeggio, and yet there is no sense of loss.
We cite Loveliest of trees as an instance of the remarkable effect produced by this economy of material. The most ambitious setting is that of Bredon Hill. The composer reflects the varying moods of the poem in a series of entirely satisfying modulations, the reiterated melody for the voice gradually rising in register to the climax of the last verse. But it is a difficult song to sing, and the voice-part, especially at this climax, is singularly ungrateful. An abrupt change from the chord of F minor to the dominant of E: major, with a descent for the voice of a 9th, from the G in alt, is apt to be very disconcerting.
The arrangements of the Sussex folk-songs are models of what such arrangements should be. The version of Tarry Trowsers should become widely popular.
The Musical Times June 1st 1914 p388

Strangely the Folk Songs from Sussex are not currently availbale on CD, although Graham Trew and Rogern Vignoes recorded three of the set on an LP (Hyperion A66037)
A fine version of The Shropshire Lad and of Bredon Hill and othere songs is available on Chandos. It is performed by Benjamin Luxon & David Willison


Justin Guarini said...

Great blog you have a good content I enjoy reading it. Thanks!

John France said...

Thank-you for that!!!

Edward J said...

I've just come across your blog for the first time and I wonder whether you or any knowledgeable bloggers can help me.....Many years ago I heard broadcast a wonderful orchestra/vocal piece that I, with a history of over 30 years listening to British Music, had never heard. Of course, I missed the composer and title and ended up writing to the station, and back came the answer - "A Maid Peerless" by Howells on RPO Records CD7021. The CD had already been deleted and as far as I know has never been re-issued. I know that a choral version has been released on Signum but I would like to get my hands on the RPO recording. Does anyone know whether it has been re-issued in any other compilation - perhaps on a different label. Google searches yield little.

Mathias Richter said...

John, I have just come across this site:
The complete Butterworth songs at last!
There is no musicweb review as yet...