Arthur Butterworth, composer, conductor and trumpeter, born 4 August 1923; died 20 November 2014
Tim Reynish, January 2015
Arthur Butterworth, who died in November aged ninety one, was a wonderful all-round musician, composer, conductor and trumpeter. Born near Manchester, he joined the local choir, studied trumpet and cornet and joined the prestigious Besses oath Barn Band in 1939, three years later enlisting in the forces and seeing service in North Africa. In 1947 he began studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music with Richard Hall, whose other students included Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr and Hohn Ogden, but Butterworth had no sympathy with the avant garde, instead drew his inspiration from the lonely Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, and from the music of Nielsen and Sibelius. He left College early and joined the Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra where he had his first experiences of conducting. He wrote to me a little time ago about a recording he made with the RSNO of his Fourth Symphony and the Viola Concerto:
My interests, frankly, have more or less turned to chamber music in recent times. However, during the summer I went to conduct the RSNO. Way back in the early 1950's when I was 2nd trumpet in the then SNO, I acted as unofficial 'dogsbody' assistant/apprentice conductor, first to Walter Susskind and then to Karl Rankl. The last public concert I conducted was in April 1954 (shortly afterwards I came back to Manchester to join the Hall). As you know my fortunes then revolved more round composition than conducting. So it has been fifty-four years since last I conducted the (now) RSNO. It was most satisfying to go back to Glasgow to conduct again.
A recent review of this recording will give you a flavour of the man and his music:
If modern English symphonies, like those by Tippett, Arnold, and Rubbra, are already on heavy rotation in your iPod, then you might consider the two symphonies on this two-disc set by Arthur Butterworth: his First from 1957 conducted by John Barbirolli and his Fourth from 1986 led by the composer. Like his Viola Concerto from 1992 (also included here), Butterworth's symphonies are written in a decidedly conservative harmonic idiom and a thoroughly romantic style, with big-hearted melodies and ardent perorations.
With over one hundred works to his name, many of them symphonies and concerti, it is sad that he rarely got involved with the wind orchestra, though in the early days of BASBWE he was one of the first composers I invited to write for us. The result was the magnificent, brooding, dark Tundra, premiered at a BASBWE Conference at the RNCM in 1984.
If you enjoy the music of Sibelius, you will enjoy working on this piece, and his earlier work for wind or brass, Winter Words.
Borean Suite, Tundra (1984) - Arthur Butterworth
Published by Vanderbeek and Imrie
- Aurora Borealis (Winter)
- The Melting of the Ice (Spring)
- Midnight Sun (Summer)
- Reindeer Run (Autumn)
Arthur Butterworth's Borean Suite, Tundra was commissioned by BASBWE and first performed at the RNCM on 4th November, 1984, by the ILEA Youth Symphonic Band conductor Christopher Morgan.
The composer wrote:
It is scored for a large wind ensemble. Dark colours are all pervasive, the programmatic element is strongly present. Remote and mysterious, secretive and forbidding lie the vast impenetrable forests of the far northlands; the Taiga, silent and uninhabited, the legendary domain of Tapio, the ancient forest deity. Further still, even more remote, the secret haunt of arctic foxes, the lair of wolves, wandering reindeer and the fearsome snowy owl, a hostile land of chilling desolation and permafrost stretches the tundra, where for some short weeks in summer the sun brings perpetual daylight and the earth brings forth a riotous abandon of colour and frenzied life until the relentless and inexorable return of the snow, the darkness and the cold.
The language is unashamedly that of the early twentieth century symphonists, more particularly of Sibelius. Pithy phrases build energetically over long pedal points, massive blocks of harmony sidestep and overlap, all with a powerful grasp of tonality underlying the texture. The result is a serious addition to the neglected symphonic repertoire for wind ensemble.
His earlier work for wind orchestra is Winter Words, originally scored for brass in 1978, and later re-arranged for wind and published by Molenaar. In 1985 he wrote a march for the RNCM Mancunian Way which remains in manuscript and was premiered at the 1985 Conference.