Butterworth Is Not Just For PancakesPosted: February 18, 2015
Hubby and I were driving home one day, the light of dusk darkening what had proved to be a stressful day. My old knee injury was bothering me, so at one point I was waiting in the car while Hubby ran into a store. I pushed the radio button and started flipping through channels.
I like most styles of music but for a car ride I usually settle on soft rock, classic rock, or country. Occasionally, I listen to classical, but the problem with classical in the car is the road noise when you drive. Classical music tends to have very soft sections and very loud sections, all in the same piece. So you’re bumping along down the road, can’t hardly hear it, and turn up the volume until you do. All’s well until suddenly the brass section comes blaring in with a forte, and it just about blows you out of the car! Which is why I tend to keep my classical listening outside of our vehicle.
This particular day, while Hubby was in the store, I couldn’t find one song I wanted to listen to. Except, there was a particularly nice piece by Claude Debussy playing on WFMT. So I let it play… and by time Hubby came out the Debussy had ended and a narrator was discussing pre-WW1 music.
It was the tail end of a two-day program highlighting music before the Great War came along and changed the face of composing. As we drove home, the narrator gave a summary of his playlist and introduced the musical piece he was ending the program with. It struck me funny, because the musician’s name made me think of the fancy skirted bottle of maple syrup fame.
It was an English composer, George Butterworth, who has little music to show for himself as he really had only gotten started before the war broke out and he joined the British Army. Before he was deployed, he destroyed many of his musical compositions himself, fearful he wouldn’t return from the war and have the chance to revise them to his satisfaction before someone else heard them.
I think it’s safe to say he must’ve been a perfectionist.
Some of his music, however, had been previously published and he had already gained a reputation as an important musician. It was generally felt that he would’ve become one of England’s finest composers if he hadn’t died in the war (he was only 31).
Hubby and I pulled up in our driveway and turned off the car engine just as Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad, began to play on the radio.
I haven’t the words to tell you how truly peaceful and calming this pastoral rhapsody was. From the very first notes, lovely images of a sunny, summer day in the English countryside came to mind. We both just sat there, mesmerized by some of the most beautiful music we’d ever heard.
It could be that the contrast between a stressful day and the salve of the music was so vivid. Or it could be that I don’t often hear a piece written in the Dorian scale (also called Russian minor). Either way, it was an unexpected blessing I won’t soon forget.
It also made me sad, thinking of his destroyed compositions. What beauty have we been deprived of in Butterworth’s quest for perfection? And I wonder… what gifts do each of us have that we purposely squelch, because we are embarrassed by not meeting our internalized standards? Who could we have helped with our ‘meager offerings’?
I went online and found a YouTube recording of the whole rhapsody, performed in 1944 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra (Stokowski conducting). I listen to it now, from time to time.
What if it wasn’t a co-incidence that my knee was bothering me that day? Or that Hubby wanted to stop at that store? And maybe Debussy was playing at that time to act as the proverbial dangling carrot, drawing me to that station at just that moment. (Doubtless the good Lord knows how I feel about impressionistic music.)
I realize not everyone thinks everything happens for a reason. And maybe it doesn’t. But be it luck or blessing, isn’t it amazing when you get exactly what you need, exactly when you need it? Perhaps someday, when we are in heaven, we will all have the opportunity to hear Mr. Butterworth’s destroyed works. I like to think that heaven will include concerts by our favorite musicians. Heavenly music the likes of which are heard nowhere here on earth.
If you are having a stressful day, or you just need a reminder of summer, I highly recommend you listen to Butterworth’s music too. I hope it will be a blessing to you as well.
Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands. Psalm 66:1
… singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Ephesians 5:19