Sunday, June 13, 2010

George Butterworth: A Shropshire Lad



A bit of culture this week, as I am writng this in Church Stretton and the only Shropshire band I can think of is T'Pau. And you wouldn't want that.

Shropshire means Housman. And (with apologies to Ralph Vaughan Williams) Housman means George Butterworth.

So this week's video brings you Butterworth's setting of the poem "Loveliest of Trees" and then moves rather abruptly into his glorious orchestral rhapsody on the theme. It ought to be the Shropshire national anthem. Certainly before "China in Your Hand".

As a page devoted to George Butterworth says:

Although just about every English composer of the time attempted some settings of the poems of A. E. Housman (1859-1936), none caught the essence of the poetry like Butterworth – and no other composer is quite so associated with these poems, especially A Shropshire Lad (published in 1896).

As well as having a recurrent death wish theme, many of Housman's poems return to the senselessness of war and the arbitrariness of who would return and who would not. Although it was the Boer war that was the main subject of such poems, WWI brought new force to the agony of these lines.

It is with almost fatalistic irony (only too common in the world of the arts – for example Pushkin foretelling his own death in Eugene Onegin) that we note that Housman would long outlive these young men, particularly his greatest musical interpreter: Butterworth.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Somme robbed us of the most promising composer of his generation.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

There was a lad from Manchester named Green who also made some decent settings of Housman, if I recall correctly. He also perished in action in France.