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Butterworth was a great English composer who never fulfilled his potential because his life was cut tragically short in the First World War.
However, the prevailing view among music historians is that this was a young man who had much, much more to offer the world of classical music. He wasn’t the only significant loss suffered by the world of the arts during the Great War. The composer Granados famously perished at sea, his ship torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1916. The poet Edward Thomas, a member of the same regiment as Butterworth, died in the Battle of Arras in 1917. By then, Butterworth himself was already dead; a trench is named after him between Gloster and Munster alleys. What seems to make Butterworth’s case so much more tragic is the fact that he destroyed many of his existing manuscripts in 1914, before going to war.
The Banks of Green Willow was written in 1913, a short pastoral idyll. It is loosely based on the song that Vaughan Williams had lovingly recorded on one of his folk safaris in 1909. It has become almost a symbol of that long-lost halcyon Edwardian age, as if Butterworth were transcribing the disappearing world around him.
English String Orchestra; William Boughton (conductor). Nimbus: NI5068.