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Whom the Gods Love: The Life and Music of George Butterworth (0) (Composer) Paperback – 17 Jul 2009
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We will almost never know much about GSKB's inner thoughts (he appears not to have left a record, or even spoken much about them). The urge to analyse such things is very much of our age, not his. Yet we do know that he was a fastidious worker, who didn't find composing easy - and indeed, didn't think of himself primarily as a composer anyway. He was certainly happy in the army and it's not at all certain that he'd have returned to composition had he lived (though many people would have pressurised him to do so).
(One thing - the previous reviewer says that "I cannot believe there are no letters from or to Butterworth preserved, or that no one wrote about him in a more detailed way, particularly since his death was recognised as a tragedy at the time, and people were interviewed on radio...". No-one was interviewed on radio (this was 1916!) nor was there any widespread feeling that his death was an artistic tragedy - most of his works had still to be published. It was the efforts of his father, Sir Alexander, Hugh Allen, Adrian Boult and Ralph Vaughan Williams that led to most of his music being available in the 1920s and 30s. And, of course, the quality of the music itself...
His death I think is covered in a sentence. Not at all good enough. I cannot believe there are no letters from or to Butterworth preserved, or that no one wrote about him in a more detailed way, particularly since his death was recognised as a tragedy at the time, and people were interviewed on radio and articles written lster, but we know nothing much about what was said.
I really don't think I know more about Butterworth than before buying the book and don't think anyone should call this a biography. Should have been issued as a small pamphlet and at an appropriate price. Absolutely frustrating and insignificant.
This book is not only authoritative and brilliantly informative of the man's music;but has been researched absolutely as well as possible,under the circumstances.It is massively informative in regard to the music,but not once does it become dry or impenetrable. Although neccesarily brief (Butterworth was killed at the age of only 31)it is,nevertheless,as good a biography of a composer as it is possible to have.
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But the book does not dwell on this aspect, but instead gives us the succinct picture of Butterworth's background, both family and education. The author uses many footnotes, more than I used, but I did check what I considered to be important in the overall picture. I was really not much interested in his heritage, but many no doubt would be interested. It did focus on the three periods, short though they were of his composing life and I learned a great deal by this portion of the book , which also included detailed examples and explanations of his individual compositions.
The Folk Song era for Butterworth was the 2nd compostion period which I found particularly fascinating be cause it spoke of his association with many of other well-known composers interested in the Folk Music Revival; Cecil Sharp (also killed in the war), Vaughan Williams and several others. Since I knew little or nothing about this period in music in England, it made for interesting reading. Included were comments about the relationships and some were quite humorous. One that I will include herein was made by the poet Housman when he discovered that Vaughan Williams had omitted two verses from is musical setting of the song "Is My Team Ploughing?" (This is one of the Shropshire lad Songs in which a ghost is communicating with a live friend- A WONDERFUL SONG). In The V.Williams setting he leaves out the words: The goal stands up, the keeper Stands up to keep the Goal; The composer's view was that any poet who had written such lines as those should be grateful to have them left out, a remark not made directly to Housman, but to a friend; Housman's response was "I wonder how he would like me to cut out two bars of his music." Even the 'greats' can go at it!!!!!!
The book moves forward clearly and at a reasonable pace; it stays with the story and includes many photographs of Butterworth and other involved in his life. If you are a singer, especially a baritone, for that's what the songs were written for, but of course he did write instrumental music as well. The last composing period was when he focused on instrumental writing and before he was killed wrote two significant instrumental pieces, as well as many other musical compositions. All are listed in the book. Everything you want to know about George Butterworth is herein.
"In all of Butterworth's output, the man and the music are inseparable. He was very much a man of the English countryside, as was Housman whose verses so fired the composer's imagination. ......Butterworth was no innovatory composer, nor was his music very influential, but he will remain an important minor figure with a reputation based on a handful of works, the sincerity and musical value of which assure him a place in the history of English music."