John Rutter on his secret 'composing cottage'

21 October 2014, 16:41 | Updated: 3 November 2014, 10:36

The much-loved master of English choral music talks about his strict composing regime ahead of the release of his new double album.

Each morning at 10 o’clock, John Rutter sets off to a secluded cottage some miles away from his home where he tries to spend the entire day writing music. No one has his telephone number there, and there's no road, so it’s unlikely that anyone will be passing by to disturb him.

"I think we all have to be fairly disciplined," Rutter told Classic FM’s Charlotte Green, ahead of the release next month of his new double album, The John Rutter Songbook.

Charlotte Green's Culture Club with John Rutter

And despite his strict regime and the lack of distractions at his composing cottage, there’s no guarantee that inspiration will come. 

“What you’re doing is trying to reach for a tap and it’s always slightly out of reach and you don't know why,” the composer said.

“The water will flow some days, and other days you only get a miserable little drip, and other days you get absolutely nothing.”

“And of course the worst day of all is when you write lots of stuff down and think ‘Oh I've got that.’ You look at it the next day and think, ‘Oh no. That's not good enough.’ You have to go back over what you've done.

Rutter’s advice for budding young composers is “just keep trying”.

“Come back the next day and sometimes a good day is the reward for several bad days… One morning somehow it all seems to work and the pencil seems to flow across the page and you’ve got a whole chunk more written that yesterday you could not do.”

The composer has been writing music since he was a small boy, when he would spend hours at the piano “doodling”.

“I always had a wish to make things up,” Rutter says. “I would invent titles for my improvisations and call it ‘Dawn in the Garden’ or ‘Down by the River’. And somehow I preferred that to trying to play, not terribly well, pieces that had been written by the great composers.” 

“I had no idea you could make a living doing that… I never thought I would become a published composer.” 

Rutter’s new release, out on the Classic FM label on 3 November, contains favourite tracks as well as the composer’s trademark Christmas carols.

“Don't lets call it a retrospective,” said Rutter, who turns 70 next year, “because it makes it sound like I am halfway into the grave.”