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George Butterworth (1885–1916)
Son of a solicitor with the Great Western Railway, George Sainton Kaye Butterworth was born in London on 12th July 1885. After studying at Eton as a King’s Scholar, he was admitted to Trinity College, Oxford, where he read ‘Greats’ (classics, ancient history and philosophy), and soon joined the Oxford University Musical Club. Clearly music preoccupied him more than academic work, and apart from the Musical Club he sang in the Oxford Bach Choir, whose conductor, Hugh Allen, organist of New College, soon took a particular interest in him, leading to a friendship which continued for the rest of his life.
Butterworth’s close association with Oxford continued beyond his undergraduate career, which ended with him gaining a third-class degree in 1908. Despite his father’s opposition to a musical career, George enrolled at the Royal College of Music in 1910, taking the organ as first study and piano as second. Becoming disillusioned, he left the College after a year. By this time he had completed his two sets of songs from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. These were premiered at an Oxford University Musical Club concert in May 1911 and were published shortly after by Augener (now an imprint of S&B).
George enlisted in the Army in September 1914, shortly after the beginning of the First World War. By the time he was sent to France in 1915, he had become a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry. However, before his posting, he set his papers in order and destroyed a large number of compositions (especially pianoforte works and songs) which to his mind did not seem sufficiently good to be preserved. Any premonition he may have had about his fate was to prove all too real, for he was killed by a sniper’s bullet near Pozières on 5th August 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.