Sunday, May 27, 2018

George Butterworth - The Banks of Green Willow

Very successful attack this morning… All went like clockwork… The battle is going very well for us and already the Germans are surrendering freely. The enemy is so short of men that he is collecting them from all parts of the line. Our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of confidence.
- Field Marshall Sir Douglass Haig, report on the first day of the battle of the Somme

It may be that the greatest British composer of the 20th Century died at the Somme.  This Memorial Day weekend is likely littered with references to the Wilfred Owens (Dulce et decorem est) or John McCrae (In Flanders Fields).  But arguably the greatest British musical tribute to that great bloodletting came from a composer who only survived five days on the Somme.  Twenty thousand died the first day, going "over the top".  He lived four days after that "very successful" first day that say 20,000 British dead.

Butterworth was upper class, educated at Trinity College, Oxford.  Your don't get much more "upper class British" than that unless you are born  purple.  As a member of that class, he stepped up to his duty, and soon found himself as a private in His Majesty's army.  Soon he was promoted to Subaltern (no doubt due to class distinctions) and then to Lieutenant.

On 4 August 1916 his unit was ordered to take a German communication trench, which they did.  But early the next day, a German sniper shot true, and ended a too brief composition career.  I guess that you could say that too many careers ended too soon on the Western Front.  But Butterworth's was remembered by his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, and that made all the difference for his reputation.  Like Williams, Butterworth was influenced by English country folk music.  You'll hear it here.

Williams survived the charnel house of the War To End Wars, and left a legacy.  Butterworth was picked off by a sniper on the Western Front, and his body hastily buried in the trench his men won with so much blood and toil.  You wonder what might have been different had that War To End War not taken place.
I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


libertyman said...

Lovely views of the English countryside. Great post. Sitting lakeside in Maine. Sending my best to you and the Queen of the World.

Old NFO said...

One of the many losses, pretty much entire generation of English, French, and German men...