Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Butterworth drinking song rediscovered in Oxford

10:49, 12th December 2016

A festive song by George Butterworth has been rediscovered at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries.

Beginning with the words ‘Crown winter with green’, it sets a poem by Robert Bridges in the style of a drinking song.

The score had been lost for nearly a century when it was found among a miscellaneous group of uncatalogued music manuscripts. ‘Music by G.S.K.B.’ (the initials of the composer’s full name, George Sainton Kaye Butterworth) is inscribed in small letters in the top-left corner of the first page, and ‘Butterworth’ is written in red pen across the top of the manuscript. The manuscript is not in the composer’s hand and the identity of the copyist is not known.

Portrait of George Butterworth as a schoolboy at Eton, taken from the Bodleian Libraries’ Butterworth collection

‘The song’s musical and technical shortcomings suggest that it is probably one of Butterworth’s earlier pieces, possibly dating from his school or student days, which would have been in the early years of the 20th century,’ said Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel curator of music, who rediscovered the manuscript. ‘As a song, Crown winter with green may not be a masterpiece, in the way that Butterworth’s later Housman songs undoubtedly are, but it can perhaps be seen as a small step on the path towards his musical maturity.’

‘With more than 12 million printed items, including more than half a million musical scores, the Bodleian Libraries’ collections are full of treasures but it’s not often we discover a gem like this,’ said Chris Fletcher, keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries. ‘This rare musical score adds another work to Butterworth’s small but distinguished musical legacy and we are delighted to be putting in on display for all to see.’

The Bodleian Libraries hold most of Butterworth’s surviving autograph music manuscripts, including all his existing orchestral works, letters, and the telegrams informing his parents of his death in the trenches.

The manuscript score of Butterworth’s Crown Winter with Green will be on public display in the Bodleian’s Weston Library from 14 – 18 December. The display will be accompanied by a listening post where visitors can hear a recording of the song.


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