Friday, 5 August 2016

6 & & July "Butterworth"


This is Classical Break on Somer
Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. 
Today’s programme, written and researched by
Mike Burrows, is a tribute to
the composer, George Butterworth.

George Sainton Kaye Butterworth was born
in 1885, the son
of a lawyer and managing-director
on the railways, and died as
an Acting Captain in the Durham Light
Infantry during the Battle of the
Somme. At about dawn, in August
1916, leading his company in
A trench-digging
action near Pozieres he was killed
instantly by a sniper in a
moment of sleep-deprived unconcern for
his own safety.  As a soldier,
he had liked to lead from
the front; here, he had made
an elementary slip and raised his head too high. 
Posthumously awarded the Military Cross, he
lived up fully to what had
been expected of him and thus
to the example of his grandfather,
an army General.  Like many of
his contemporaries of the privileged middle-
classes, he died as a junior
officer fighting the Hun, his last
moments spent caught up in the
digging of a trench towards a
well-fortified enemy position amid the
blasted landscape of a sector of
the Western Front, his body never
recovered, his name added to the
famous Thiepval Monument to many of
those Allied troops who were killed
in France or Belgium between 1914
-18 and who have no known
grave.  The monument stands not far
from where he was killed.   At
the time, the earthwork in which
he fell became known as The
Butterworth Trench.

Let’s hear an arrangement of a
folksong arranged by him, one of
his 11 Sussex Folksongs, Roving In
The Dew.  He collected 3 versions
of this song himself, under the
title, Dabbling In The Dew, but
for this arrangement used a version
taken down by another researcher.  
Track 1 Dabbling In The Dew, Arr Butterworth 

It is doubtful that George Butterworth
ever had thoughts of living up
to his Grandfather’s example. Though an
Old Etonian and graduate of Trinity
College, Oxford and one who would
have regarded himself as the social
equal of most of the more
famous victims of the meatgrinder in
the teens of the last Century –
the first-rate Tennants, Grenfells, Asquiths
and Horners of this life - was
no conventional patriot, no Tory, no
euphuist in any aspect of existence. 

Whether learning or teaching music – he
taught piano at Radley, and formed
a choir there – he was an
artist of close mouth and practical
activity.  He was a physically strong,
man who smoked a straight Lovat
briar, grew the expected flourishing moustache
in answer to dark, bushy eyebrows
and tended to look as though
smiling at the eyes – lucent eyes
crinkled at the corners, the lower
lids subject to upward pressure from
his cheeks, humorous eyes, their humour
with a touch of irony or
scepticism, perhaps. 

They were also watchful eyes.  A
graduate in Classics, he attended the
Royal College of Music from 1910,
a late starter in the College’s
eyes  – though a composer from the
age of 9 - who knew where
he was going.  The courses disappointed
him, leading nowhere; he left after
a year.  At University, he had
been President of the Music Society,
noted as one who was
“impatient of humbug.” He had the
clearest ideas of form and harmony
and had made a study of
folk-music, becoming a staunch member
of Cecil Sharp’s Folksong Society.  He
had worked through the expected influences
of the day that wrecked the
work of lesser talents; Wagner left
his mark, possibly Grieg or Debussy
and possibly, at the outside, the
colourful and ingenious style of Slavic
instrumentation.  He remained the most analytical
and clearminded of critics, and certainly
cut through musical problems for that
late-developer, Vaughan Williams.  At the
end of an evening, he took
his pipe out of his mouth
to suggest in his “gruff, abrupt” manner
that Vaughan Williams write a 2nd
Symphony, The London Symphony, and Vaughan
Williams dedicated it to him before
its premiere in 1913.   When Butterworth
died, Vaughan Williams felt as though
utterly bereft; there’s the matter of
his having volunteered for war-service
as an ambulance-driver but, in
time, changing his battlefield vocation to
become a Royal Artillery officer.  Perhaps
the death of Butterworth contributed to
this decision.

George would not have been impressed
by talk of his bravery in
encouraging his men – mostly hardbitten ex-
miners - to one more effort, or
by admiration of his Military Cross –
which only officers could win.   His
men loved him, but that would
have made the error seem all
the more stupid.   He would have
kicked himself for making the mistake
made by chivalrous idiots just posted
up from home, clever lads who
forgot to duck or who had
no idea how hard it were
to dodge the bullet of an
unseen assailant – the speed with which
death could be dealt in a
modern War in France.   

As a composer, George Butterworth’s work
has come down to us as
a proof of his technical ability
as well as pure expression; he
seems the most humane but poised
of artists, a man who, quite
possibly attained the very highest degree
of feeling and polish; not one
of his works appears blemished by
extraneous or awkward details or developments. 
They appear to have been distilled
and perfected by a musical magician. 
He must have destroyed volumes of
early pieces before leaving for France –
if not sooner.  His complete oeuvre
consists of four orchestral pieces, a
couple of single songs – one setting
Requiescat by Oscar Wilde after the
death of his own mother, three
song cycles – one based on poems
from Stevenson’s Songs of Travel, two
on the Shropshire Lad poems of
AE Housman, one on poems
by WE Henley, Love Blows
As The Wind Blows, a book
of arrangements of 11 Sussex folksongs .
a Suite For String Quartette
and – most famously – the ever-fresh
four orchestral pieces,  the Two English
Idylls of 1911, the Rhapsody:
A Shropshire Lad, (1912) and
An Idyll:  The Banks of Green
Willow (1913).

The Folksong movement in English music
has been decried by modernists and
so-called internationalists ever since its
co-opted member-composers came to
fame.  Not one of the brilliant
minds who have pointed out that
the world of folksong nostalgically revived
was invalid as a form of
artistic expression because dead on its
feet even as it was obtruded
on the minds of sophisticated Rightwing
intellectuals, or just plain substanceless when
contrasted with industrial machine-reality, has
managed to extirpate the public’s love
of its Art-music.   The point
has so often been missed that
folksong-and-dance formed the musical
means of self-expression and
entertainment of ordinary people who did
not attend Public School or University 
or hire a suburban piano.  Ordinary
people toiled and died without mark
save birth, confirmation, marriage and funeral – unless
they attained the charge-sheet, or
entered the Workhouse.

Let’s hear the two English Idylls.
The first is based on three
folksongs:  Dabbling in The Dew, whose
subject is unsuccessful wooing, Just as
The Tide was Flowing, a story
of successful wooing and Henry Martin,
in which a man turns to
piracy on the high seas in
order to support his brothers!
Track 2:  English Idyll No 1, Butterworth 

Butterworth’s use of alto instruments is
a shading feature – voices we made
of oboe, clarinet, violas, cellos, horns,
trombones.  The light and freshness comes
from flute, harp, solo trumpet, violins. 
In rounding out the story how
effective his harp runs are.  The
bass is unobtrusive but mobile or
provides pedals of depth – a depth
of earth like firmness.  The interplay
of instrumentation is lively.  His use
of harmonics and mutes is as
breathtaking in its elemental scene setting
as is his sense of drama
and tragedy.  Full throated, his orchestra
is a formidable force from which
both Holst and Vaughan Williams and
many other composers learned, as the
deep earth settled on its perhaps
one time Wagnerist only begetter.  Constantly,
the blending of timbres is both
subtle and unerringly distinct.

In the English Idyll No 2,
the folksong is Phoebe and Her
Dark-eyed Sailor:  in it, a
girl encounters a sailor; he seeks
to win her; she refuses the
confident well-set up lad until
she suddenly realizes that he is
her betrothed who went to sea
and was thought to have drowned. 
He tried and made his fortune.
Track 3:  English Idyll No 2, Butterworth 

People had flocked from the poverty-
stricken land to the cities, where
pay was supposed survivable.  The cities
swelled with increasingly cheap labour with
predictable results. Thousands were killed young
by machines, dust or fibre-polluted
atmospheres and toxic agents, or by
a home-life best imagined from
the prints of contemporary artists.  The
workhouse – the being a charity-case –
was merely dreaded more than work
or a cholera- or typhoid epidemic.
No wonder many folksongs sing bittersweetly
or longingly of love, usually lost
love, betrayal, death or some other
form of separation, dalliances while going
or coming from somewhere, or sailors,
the season or life-occupation, the
possibility of making one’s fortune – with
plenty of fireside beer, warming spice
and baccy as well.  It has
to be remembered that at his
most utile (and, coincidentally virtuous), the
common man or woman was young,
fit, unmarried, politically submissive and an
abstainer from drinking, smoking and sexual
relations.  When rich enough to feed,
clothe and house children on one
wage, well, a man and woman
could marry, settle down and breed
fit young children of the same
make.  After all, at a higher
differential, this was how professionals not
of independent means ought to live,
to the glory of God and
Capital, and everyone knew what the
alternative was – to be a pauper
and expected to die.  Moral force was
with wealth and the employer; even
the established church, socially enmeshed with
the gentry and middleclasses, would not
or could not ameliorate the conditions
created by tyrannical Mammon, yet one
had to conform.

The conflicts in AE Housman’s
A Shropshire Lad are many; but
central to Butterworth’s probable view of
them would have been that between
living in the countryside or coming
to live and work in the
City, in London, as Housman had
done, and having to hide one’s
own very nature.  Facing up to
an inimical, godless universe of chance
and ill-fate, and to society’s
capacity for damning short-lived man’s
non-existent soul to cowering under
the threat of social disgrace and
even capital punishment as a criminal
was a peculiarly Victorian dilemma – particularly
after the trial of Oscar Wilde. 
The covertly homosexual Housman described himself
as an Epicurian, and Butterworth likewise
was no believer in the Christian
God, but both must have felt
themselves still to be swimming against
the tide of middleclass conventional religion,
politics and morality. Both loved the
countryside, the seasons, the general goodheartedness
of unsophisticated people.  The countryside and
country folk were still there, still
sang and danced in reaction to
life.  The beauty of Butterworth’s orchestral
evocation of Spring in the Rhapsody
is superfine from the opening on
string harmonics, but also as though
of Nature itself.  The woodwind, violins,
violas and cellos shade the music
to perfection, the brass affirmatory of
warmth, youthful happiness or dread fate. 
To judge from the use of
harmony, Butterworth’s study of music must
have included the works of Richard
Strauss.  I’d venture to suggest that
no Straussian nor expressionist composer achieved
a starker, harsher climax than that
of this piece in which vaulting
fanfare builds and is broken by
the tritone as in Sibelius.  A
moment of horror that stays with
one.  (The whole tone scale from
the harp at close may symbolize
death by drowning).  The day is
not saved by the Loveliest of
Trees motif that has opposed it,
all along, but by the phrase
of last line of the song. 
“To see the cherry hung with
snow.”  Butterworth’s modification, qualification or distortion
of song-themes is a brilliant
and original feature of his orchestral
work:  he develops them as might
a symphonist.  He searches out the
harmonic implication or resonance to the
last drachm (dram) or scruple.  The
harp’s rippling wholetone scale near the
end has been suggested to symbolize
a self-drowning.

The main theme of the Rhapsody,
by name, Loveliest of Trees, is
a folksong that was in fact
entirely Butterworth’s own.  In its original
form, it is the first song
in his first cycle of Shropshire
Lad settings.  He ventriloquized Housman’s and
Great Britain’s Lad in a song
indistinguishable from those that move by
every means but the intentional.  To
adapt Wilfred Owen, the poetry of
the art-musician inspired by folksong
is in the pity.  No wonder
the soldiers of his company thought so well of him.
In Butterworth’s music it is never,
to use the Masefield couplet, “The
smoke of…farms lifts blue in
air/As though man’s passionate mind
had never suffered there.”
Track 4:  Rhapsody – A Shropshire Lad, Butterworth 

Turn to 1913 and another
orchestral Idyll, The Banks of Green
Willow, based on two folksongs, the
first eponymous – a woman elopes with
a captain, believes that she will
die in childbirth and begs him
to throw her over the side –
and the second, Green Bushes, in
which a fickle maid finds a
new lover.

It’s interesting that every Butterworth orchestral
piece is in an arch construction: 
first, there is the proposition of
a beautiful tune and contrast material;
then, there is a vehement quasi-
development section; lastly, there is a
restatement of the opening material – long
drawn out, becoming hushed, fading into
a dying fall, almost unbearably poignant,
nostalgic, regretful but too touching not
to be consoling and unforgettable
Track 5:  The Banks of Green Willow, George Butterworth 

Perhaps folk-music survived even the
worst of the 19th Century’s
murderous advancement of Feudal Capitalism as the
basis for a modern society, partly
thanks to the Folksong Society and
young composers from privileged, even landed,
backgrounds who bothered to listen and
hear; folk-music was popular self-
expression more real than music-hall
popular songs or polite villa-ballads
provided by paid hacks who might
have wished to write symphonies.  It
was national self-expression; it came
of the people, the nation rather
than its rulers – as glorified by
the latest in Art music-technique,
those, for one thing, who bothered
to note it down as played
or sung, not as taught by
the Brahmsian, Dvorakesque Professor Stanford.  Modal,
not diatonic, pentatonic folk-music could
be embellished by being played over
chromatic harmonies, subjected to direct strokes
of development, manipulation, transformation, even counterpoint –
and gain.  There was never the
intention to seem sophisticated.  Sophistication is
not a positive value – it means
capable of glib persuasiveness.  Not exactly
a desideratum in one who pays
tribute to the victims of the
19th Century British holocaust who,
trapped and left with little or
no real comfort, leisure or notice
created the only natural, meaningful form
of music we had to distinguish
our artworks from superior European models.
Everyone, not the educated connoisseur, critic
or composer, owned folk-music – felt
its pathos or humour – often, its
defiant humour and unintentional pathos.  Socialists
might just look back to the
17th Century and think of Commonwealth –
wealth held in common. Holst, Vaughan
Williams, Butterworth, Grainger, Moeran and many
others will not appeal to those
who think their music easy or
unpolitical.  Anyone with half an ear
for music will hear what their
music may mean – and find its
influence compelling, magical and inexhaustible, the
musical equivalent of a powerful poetic
tradition stretching back to Shakespeare or
even Chaucer – a bringing together of
the classes, a levelling process, a
voice for us all, harmonies for
our comedies and tragedies, our own
too-often oppressed and distracted lives.
Even if in the Nineteenth Century
the devil preached from holy scripture,
still, pace the hymn or parlour
song writers, he had almost none
of the best tunes. True feeling
was in the distinct lyrics, ballads
and dances of semi-literate and
self-taught musicians.  Ribald, raucous, insolent
or hail fellow, well-met, wistful,
grieving, seeking solace, folk tunes held
the truth of a materialistic, deeply
false and unspeakably cruel age that
had trashed earth and society for
resources and productivity, profit and power.

How heartrending that Acting Captain Butterworth failed
to duck.  Sometimes, it is hard
to see what he fought and
died for on the Somme.  His
music though is a glory of
his generation and our country and,
as the Great War was simply
one more huge atrocity of Industrialization,
capital and utility, his pieces of
lifelong-taken pains are made still
more poignantly beautiful – as well as
ironically bittersweet - by its being in
part his and his lost generation’s
unconscious memorial. 

How would his music have developed
if he had returned to it
after the Great War?  That is
unknowable; like Ivor Gurney, Butterworth was
his own man, his future tendencies
not to be predicted.  He left
one unfinished orchestral piece.  Fantasia.  He
left off work on the full-
-score in the early months of
1914.  No-one knows what
happened to the short-score.  The
work was completed not long ago
by Kriss Russman.  An eight-minute movement,
scored for larger orchestra than any
that Butterworth had used before –
but with no harp nor percussion! -
it makes for fascinated listening, though
always with the caveats that a
major composer’s ideas are his own
and subject to any change he
likes, and his final intentions are
not divined by editors or, as
in this case, a talented fellow-
composer who helps fragments across within
composition of his own.  It contains
a lovely hushed opening, a long
folksong-like theme that reminds one
of the Somerset Sheep-shearing Song;
motifs from Butterworth’s own orchestral pieces,
fragments of Loveliest of Trees and
folksong, The Banks of Green Willow
The first 3 minutes 45
seconds are Butterworth’s, ending
in a vivace marking and a
tune related to the melody he
used to set Housman’s poem, When
I was One-And-Twenty..  Russman begins:
passes back the running to the various
other motifs; the solo trumpet fanfares
twice in the course of a phase
uncertain in tone or atmosphere, yet
still holding the attention.
What happens next is a rejigging
at speed of the wholetone climax
of the Rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad,
but then,  the Fantasia-material is brought
most movingly to a passionate, almost
Mahlerian unfolding of rich false relations
and enharmonic changes – wonderfully poignant, passionate
and compelling:  the main theme finds
its apotheosis in aspects of others.
The enlarged – even massive-sounding -scoring
favours bass and treble, with modulations coming
from within the alto-register.  Hair-raising.
The violins are supported in their
unison by sonorous brass and woodwind
harmonies.  It is an all-too-
short flight of inspiration, but Butterworth
himself was no chinless rhapsodist, but a
Laconian among British composers of his
time.  From there, the music dwindles
as though suddenly shy and elusive
after such loveliness.  Butterworth fades into
the shadows.  Folksong and dance, Tudor
church- or consort-music go with
him.  What should he have written?
Here, the coda is in all
senses inconclusive, something unprecedented in Butterworth’s
own work save in his having left
behind less than the torso of
a possibly great Fantasia…

Memories of the pieces heard
Earlier in the programme are rife
but welcome, and there is that very
likeable – but brief - hint of a dance-episode
that Butterworth as
a folk-dancer knew well how
to encompass.  Film exists of his 
demonstrating the steps for such a
dance!  Also, there are moments somewhat
akin to Copland’s Appalachian Spring

This was Classical Break, on Somer
Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. 

Today’s programme was researched and written
by Mike Burrows.  We hope you
enjoyed it and will tune in
again soon.  We leave you with
Fantasia, sketched by Butterworth and “realized”
by Kriss Russman.  Goodbye!
Track 6:  Fantasia, Butterworth/Yates 

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