John Butt (musician)

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John Butt, OBE, FRSE (born November 17, 1960,[1] Solihull, England) is an award-winning orchestral and choral conductor, organist, harpsichordist and scholar. He is the Gardiner Chair of Music at the University of Glasgow and is Music Director of the Dunedin Consort.

Education and career[edit]

John Butt was educated at Solihull School on a music scholarship. In 1979 he began his undergraduate education at University of Cambridge, where he held the position of organ scholar at King's College from 1979-1982. His organ teachers at Cambridge included Peter Hurford and Gillian Weir. He received his Ph.D. at Cambridge in 1987.

After graduation, he lectured at the University of Aberdeen and was a Fellow of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge. In 1989, he became University Organist and Assistant Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley; in 1992, he was promoted to Associate Professor, as well as director of the University Chamber Chorus. He prepared that choir for Gustav Leonhardt to conduct in Bach's Magnificat and Cantata no. 10 at the 1992 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition;[2] in 2012, Butt said that he had come to know Leonhardt "fairly well" and that "I learned a lot when preparing choirs for him back in my California days."[3] In 1997, he gave what one critic calls "memorable readings of Handel Organ Concertos"[4] as guest organ soloist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

In autumn of 1997, Butt returned to the University of Cambridge as University Lecturer, Director of Studies for Music at King's College, and Fellow of King's College. He also became the founding director of King's Voices - a mixed chorus "founded in October 1997 under the direction of Dr John Butt (Director of Studies for Music at King's, 1997-2001) to give the women of King's the opportunity to contribute vocally to the musical life of the College."[5]

Since October 2001 he has been the Gardiner Chair of Music at the University of Glasgow; he also served as Head of the Music Department from 2001 to 2005.[6] Since 2003 he has conducted the Dunedin Consort (a professional vocal ensemble in Edinburgh, Scotland); his title with the consort as of August, 2012 is "Music Director."

As a guest conductor, he has appeared with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Irish Baroque Orchestra, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and orchestras at the Berkeley Early Music Festival and Göttingen International Handel Festival.


He has published numerous articles for scholarly publications[7] and for general-audience publications.[8] Books have included[9]

  • Bach Interpretation: Articulation Marks in Primary Sources of J.S.Bach (Cambridge University Press, 1990; the book is based on Butt's doctoral thesis, and is described as the "first comprehensive assessment of J. S. Bach's use of articulation marks (i.e. slurs and dots) in the large body of primary sources."[10] In 1992, the book won the first William H. Scheide Prize of the American Bach Society.[11])
  • Bach - Mass in B Minor (Cambridge Music Handbooks, 1991)
  • Music Education and the Art of Performance in the German Baroque (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Playing with History - the historical approach to musical performance (Cambridge University Press, 2002; shortlisted for the book prize of the British Academy)
  • Bach's Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions (Cambridge University Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-521-88356-6; the book examines Bach's St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion in detail, situating them with respect to pre-modernity and modernity, and considering issues they raise with respect to artistic subjectivity, rhetoric and performance practice.)

He co-edited the Cambridge Companion to Bach (1997) - for which he contributed two articles on Bach's metaphysics - was consultant editor for the Oxford Companion to Bach, and joint editor (together with Tim Carter) of the Cambridge History of Seventeenth Century Music (2005).


As a solo harpsichordist, organist, or clavichordist, Butt made eleven recordings for the Harmonia mundi label, of music by J.S. Bach, Johann Kuhnau, Johann Pachelbel, Georg Philipp Telemann, Henry Purcell, John Blow, Matthew Locke, Juan Bautista Jose Cabanilles, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Sir Edward Elgar.[12] In 2013, using a harpsichord modeled on an original built by Michael Mietke,[13] Butt recorded J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier for the Linn label; it will be released in October, 2014.[14]

As a continuo player Butt has recorded with many ensembles, including the English Chamber Orchestra and American Bach Soloists.[15] In 1991-92, for Harmonia mundi, he and Baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock recorded the J.S. Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord, BWV 1014-19, 1021 and 1023.[16]

As a conductor, Butt has led eight recordings of the Dunedin Consort and Players for the Linn label, many featuring reconstructions of a specific historical performance.[17] These include:

  • 2006: Handel's The Messiah. This was the first recording of a reconstruction of the work in its first performance, which took place in Dublin in 1742. The release won the 2007 Gramophone Award for Best Baroque Vocal Album and the 2008 MIDEM Baroque Award at the Cannes Classical Awards.
  • March 2008: J.S. Bach's St Matthew Passion. This was the first recording of the version from Bach's final performance, which also took place in 1742.
  • November 2008: Handel’s Acis and Galatea in the original performing version of 1718. This release was nominated for a Gramophone Award.
  • 2010: J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor. This is the first recording to use the new critical edition by Joshua Rifkin, which follows Bach's final version of the score from 1748-50 exclusively from beginning to end. (Other editions have included elements from a 1733 version of the Kyrie and Gloria, and some posthumous changes by Bach's son, C.P.E. Bach).
  • 2012: Handel's Esther (Handel) in the first reconstructable version of the work, from 1720; Butt reconstructed the performing edition from Handel's autograph and three other historical sources.[18]
  • 2013: J.S. Bach's St. John Passion, in a liturgical reconstruction based on Good Friday Vespers services in Leipzig.[19] In March, 2013, the disc was named “Record of the Month” by Gramophone (magazine) and “Recording of the Month” by BBC Music Magazine.
  • September, 2013:[20] J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos with the Dunedin Consort. It was a Gramophone (magazine) "Choice" in October, 2013.[21]
  • March, 2014 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem with the Dunedin Consort. This is the first recording of David Black's new critical edition, published in 2012,[22] of the Franz Xaver Süssmayr completion of the Requiem. The recording seeks to re-create the forces used at the first complete performance in January, 1793; it also includes a performance of Black's reconstruction of a December 1791 performance of the Introit and Kyrie sections.[23] Also performed is Mozart's Misericordias Domini, K. 222. In May 2014, the disc was named “Recording of the Month” by Gramophone (magazine).[24]

Awards and fellowships[edit]

In addition to awards for his books and recordings, Butt has won awards and fellowships including:


John Butt and his wife Sally have five children[29] He is the nephew of a professional musician,[30] and son of the distinguished biochemist Wilfred Butt[31] - who was, Butt says, “a keen amateur”[32] musician and was at one time a member of the chorus of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. When an interviewer for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment asked John Butt about his preferences,[33] he expressed enthusiasm for the practice of tai chi, the films of Alfred Hitchcock,[34] the symphonies of Anton Bruckner (adding, "I can’t understand why so many people find Bruckner boring"), and the In Search of Lost Time novels of Marcel Proust (the central character, he said, is "a bit of a weed in many respects, but what a complex, detailed and wonderfully ironic weed! No-one else captures so strikingly the paradoxes of consciousness and the little inconsistencies and delusions that we all try to hide from the world"). He also told the interviewer, “I feel that most of the things at which I am successful are only a matter of momentary luck!”


  1. ^ Robert Cummings, biography of John Butt,, URL=
  2. ^ Edward Rothstein, "Review/Music; Heralded in Celebration, A Maturing Movement," New York Times, June 15, 1992 |URL=
  3. ^ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, “Speed Interview: John Butt,” November 15, 2012, URL=
  4. ^ Robert Cummings, biography of John Butt,, URL=
  5. ^
  6. ^ University of Glasgow - John Butt
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Kimberly Marshall, book review, Performance Practice Review, 1992, URL=
  11. ^
  12. ^ John Butt (Harpsichord, Organ, Conductor)
  13. ^ Dunedin Consort website, "Help Us Bring Bach's Harpsichord to Scotland," URL=
  14. ^ Gramophone (magazine), "Butt alone for Bach," Gramophone (magazine), May 2014, p.39
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Dunedin Consort -John Butt (artistic director)
  18. ^ John Butt, "Sources and Performing Edition," notes to Linn CD 397 |URL=
  19. ^
  20. ^ promotional video, Vimeo, URL=
  21. ^ David Vickers, record review, Gramophone, October 2013 URL=
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Gramophone (magazine), Recording of the Month Gramophone (magazine), May 2014, pp. 28-9
  25. ^ The Royal Musical Association, "The Dent Medal: Medal Recipients," URL-
  26. ^ Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, "Bach at the Academy," The Principal's Blog |URL=
  27. ^
  28. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60367. p. 10. 29 December 2012.
  29. ^ John Butt, Bach’s Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. x, ISBN 978-0-521-88356-6
  30. ^ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, “Speed Interview: John Butt,” November 15, 2012, URL=
  31. ^ David London, “Wilfred Butt: Isolating Hormones to Treat Infertility,” The Guardian, 21 June 2006 URL=
  32. ^ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, “Speed Interview: John Butt,” November 15, 2012, URL=
  33. ^ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Blog, “John Butt: Speed Interview,” December 14, 2010, URL=
  34. ^ Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, “Speed Interview: John Butt,” November 15, 2012, URL=

External links[edit]