John Rutter

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John Rutter

John Milford Rutter

(1945-09-24) 24 September 1945 (age 78)
London, England
Alma materClare College, Cambridge
  • Composer
  • conductor
Known forFounding the Cambridge Singers Edit this at Wikidata

John Milford Rutter CBE (born 24 September 1945) is an English composer, conductor, editor, arranger, and record producer, mainly of choral music.


Born on 24 September 1945[1] in London, the son of an industrial chemist and his wife, Rutter grew up living over the Globe pub on London's Marylebone Road.[2] He was educated at Highgate School where fellow pupils included John Tavener, Howard Shelley, Brian Chapple and Nicholas Snowman,[3] and as a chorister there took part in the first (1963) recording of Britten's War Requiem under the composer's baton.[4] He then read music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the choir. While still an undergraduate, he had his first compositions published, including the Shepherd's Pipe Carol.[4] He served as director of music at Clare College from 1975 to 1979 and led the choir to international prominence.

In 1981, Rutter founded his own choir, the Cambridge Singers, which he conducts and with which he has made many recordings of sacred choral repertoire (including his own works), particularly under his own label Collegium Records. He resides at Hemingford Abbots in Cambridgeshire and frequently conducts many choirs and orchestras around the world.

From 1985 to 1992, Rutter suffered severely from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome), which restricted his output; after 1985, he stopped writing music on commission, as he was unable to guarantee meeting deadlines.[5]

Rutter also works as an arranger and editor. As a young man, he collaborated with Sir David Willcocks on five volumes of the extraordinarily successful Carols for Choirs anthology series.

He was inducted as a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity in 1985.[6][7] Rutter is also a Vice-President of the Joyful Company of Singers, President of The Bach Choir, and President of the Association of British Choral Directors (ABCD).[8]


Rutter's compositions are chiefly choral, and include Christmas carols, anthems and extended works such as the Gloria, the Requiem and the Magnificat.

The world premiere of Rutter's Requiem (1985), and of his authoritative edition of Fauré's Requiem, took place with the Fox Valley Festival Chorus, in Illinois. In 2002, his setting of Psalm 150, commissioned for the Queen's Golden Jubilee, was performed at the Jubilee thanksgiving service in St Paul's Cathedral, London. Similarly, he was commissioned to write a new anthem, "This is the day", for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011, performed at Westminster Abbey during the service.[9]

Rutter's work is published by Oxford University Press. It has been recorded by many choirs, but he conducts his own recordings principally on his label Collegium Records.

The first two choral items sung at the Platinum Jubilee National Service of Thanksgiving in June 2022 were arrangements by Rutter [10] as were no fewer than six items performed at the Coronation of Charles III and Camilla.[11]


Rutter's music is eclectic, showing the influences of the French and English choral traditions of the early 20th century as well as of light music and American classic songwriting. Almost every choral anthem and hymn that he writes[citation needed] has a subsequent orchestral accompaniment in addition to the standard piano/organ accompaniment, using various different instrumentations such as strings only, strings and woodwinds or full orchestra with brass and percussion. Many of his works have also been arranged for concert band with optional chorus.[12]

Despite composing and conducting much religious music, Rutter told the US television programme 60 Minutes in 2003 that he was not a particularly religious man yet still deeply spiritual and inspired by the spirituality of sacred verses and prayers.[13][14] The main topics considered in the 60 Minutes programme, which was broadcast a week before Christmas 2003, were Rutter's popularity with choral groups in the United States, Britain, and other parts of the world, and his composition Mass of the Children (written after the sudden death of his son Christopher while a student at Clare College, Cambridge, where Rutter himself had studied).

In a 2009 interview, Rutter discussed his understanding of "genius" and its unique ability to transform lives – whether that genius is communicated in the form of music or other media. He likened the purity of music to that of mathematics and connected the two with a reference to the discovery made by the early Greeks that frequencies of harmonic pitches are related by whole-number ratios.[2]


Rutter's music is very popular, particularly in the US.[13][15] Many hold him in high regard in the UK, as illustrated by the following quotation from a review in the London Evening Standard (25 September 2005): "For the infectiousness of his melodic invention and consummate craftsmanship, Rutter has few peers". Sue Lawley referred to Rutter as "the most celebrated and successful composer of carols alive today"[16] and Sean Rafferty heralded Rutter as "a creator of not just carols, but wonderfully great things for the human voice."[17] One British composer, David Arditti, did not regard him as a sufficiently "serious" composer, saying that Rutter is "hard to take seriously, because of the way in which his sheer technical facility or versatility leads to a superficial, unstable crossover style which is neither quite classical nor pop, and which tends towards mawkish sentimentality in his sugarily-harmonised and orchestrated melodies."[18] The Guardian remarked that "it is as a writer of carols that he has really made his mark ... His larger-scale works – particularly the Gloria (1974), Requiem (1985) and Magnificat (1990) – are also well established in the choral repertoire."[19] David Willcocks considered Rutter "the most gifted composer of his generation."[20]


In 1980 Rutter was made an honorary fellow of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and in 1988 he became a fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians. In 1996 the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Lambeth Doctorate of Music upon him in recognition of his contribution to church music.

Rutter was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 New Year Honours, for services to music.[21]

In 2008 he also became an honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple while playing a significant role in the 2008 Temple Festival.

List of compositions and arrangements[edit]

Extended compositions[edit]


  • "All Bells in Paradise" (original composition)
  • "Angels' Carol" (original composition)
  • "Angel Tidings" (arrangement)
  • "Born on Earth" (arrangement)
  • "Candlelight Carol" (original composition)
  • "Carol of the Children" (original composition)
  • "Carol of the Magi" (original composition)
  • "Cantique de Noël" (arrangement)
  • "Child in a Manger" (arrangement of Gaelic melody 'Bunessan', original words)
  • "Christ our Emmanuel" (original composition)
  • "Christmas Bells" (arrangement of the Norwegian folk song "Pal Pa Haugen", with new Christmas lyrics by Rutter)
  • "Christmas Lullaby"
  • "Christmas Night" (arrangement, the title song on the Cambridge Singers's first album)
  • "Deck the Hall" (arrangement)
  • "The Donkey Carol" (not to be confused with the song "The Friendly Beasts" arranged by John Davis that also goes by the nickname Donkey Carol)
  • "Dormi Jesu"
  • "Es Ist Ein’ Ros’ Entsprungen" (original composition)
  • "I Sing of a Maiden" (original composition)
  • "I Wish You Christmas"
  • "Jesus Child"
  • "Joseph’s Carol" (original composition)
  • "Joy to the World" (arrangement)
  • "Love Came Down at Christmas" (arrangement)
  • "Mary's Lullaby"
  • "Nativity Carol" (1st line: "Born in a Stable so Bare"; original composition)
  • "Personent hodie" (arrangement)
  • "Hajej, nynej, Ježíšku" (arrangement and translation of Czech carol called "Hajej, nynej, Ježíšku")
  • "Rejoice and Be Merry"
  • "Shepherd's Pipe Carol"
  • "Silent Night" (arrangement)
  • "Star Carol"
  • "Suzi's Carol" (original composition)
  • "There is a Flower" (original composition)
  • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (arrangement)
  • "The Very Best Time of Year"
  • "Up Good Christen Folk"
  • "We Will"
  • "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (arrangement)
  • "Wexford Carol" (arrangement)
  • "Was I the lamb?" Setting of words by Marc Bratcher to celebrate the Chaplain's 20 years of service as Chaplain of Merton College.
  • "What Sweeter Music"
  • "Wild Wood Carol"

Other anthems[edit]

Choral works[edit]

  • Three Carols from Carols for Choirs 4 for SS and SSA unaccompanied
  • Five Childhood Lyrics
  • Eight Christmas Carols, Set 1 for mixed voices and piano
  • Eight Christmas Carols, Set 2 for mixed voices and piano
  • Twelve Christmas Carols, Set 1 for mixed voices and small orchestra or piano
  • Twelve Christmas Carols, Set 2 for mixed voices and small orchestra or piano
  • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" from Carols for Choirs 2 for soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices ("SATB") and piano or orchestra
  • 100 Carols for Choirs ed. Willcocks and Rutter
  • Birthday Madrigals for SATB, commissioned in 1995 by Brian Kay and the Cheltenham Bach Choir to celebrate the 75th birthday of George Shearing
  • Canticles of America
  • Carols for Choirs 2 ed. Willcocks and Rutter
  • Carols for Choirs 3 ed. Willcocks and Rutter
  • Carols for Choirs 4 ed. Willcocks and Rutter
  • Child in a manger from Carols for Choirs 3 for SATB and keyboard or orchestra
  • Christiana Canticles (Evening Service in C) for SATB and organ, consisting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, and dedicated to the choir of Christ Church, Christiana Hundred[22]
  • Christmas Night for SATB and keyboard or strings
  • Come Down, O Love Divine for double mixed choir and organ
  • Cradle Song from Carols for Choirs 3 for SATB unaccompanied
  • Dancing Day for SSA with harp or piano
  • Donkey Carol for SATB and piano or orchestra
  • Flemish Carol from Carols for Choirs 3 for SATB and piano or orchestra
  • "A Flower Remembered" for SATB or SAA, published with lyrics in both English and Japanese, composed in 2014 to commemorate the victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami[23][24]
  • For the Beauty of the Earth for SATB, SA, or TTBB, and piano
  • A Gaelic Blessing for SATB and organ or guitar, commissioned in 1978 by the Chancel Choir of the First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Nebraska, in honour of minister of music Mel Olson
  • Gloria for mixed voices with brass, percussion and organ or orchestra
  • Here We Come a-wassailing from Twelve Christmas Carols, Set 1
  • The Holly and the Ivy for SATB and piano or orchestra
  • I Saw Three Ships from Carols for Choirs 3 for SATB and piano or orchestra
  • "I will sing with the spirit" for SATB and organ, piano or orchestra
  • Jesus Child for SATB and piano or orchestra
  • Jesus Child for unison and piano
  • Joy to the world! for SATB and keyboard or orchestra (2 trumpets, timpani and strings)
  • King Jesus hath a garden from Carols for Choirs 3 for SATB and piano or flute, harp and strings
  • "Kum ba yah" - a reflective arrangement of the traditional African-American song, written in memory of Nelson Mandela.
  • "Look at the World" for SATB and Orchestra
  • "The Lord bless you and keep you"
  • Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace for SATB or TTBB with organ or harp and strings
  • Love came down at Christmas for SATB and keyboard or strings
  • Mary's Lullaby for SATB and piano or orchestra
  • Nativity Carol for SATB and keyboard or strings
  • O come, O come, Emmanuel from Twelve Christmas Carols, Set 1 for SATB and keyboard or orchestra
  • O Lord, thou hast searched me out for SATB chorus, organ and solo cor anglais (or clarinet, or viola)
  • "Psalmfest"
  • Quem pastores laudavere for SATB unaccompanied
  • Quittez, pasteurs for SATB unaccompanied
  • Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? for SATB unaccompanied
  • Shepherd's Pipe Carol for SATB and piano or orchestra or for SSAA and piano or orchestra
  • Sing we to this merry company for SATB and orchestra or organ
  • Star Carol for SATB and piano or orchestra or brass with optional children's voices or for unison and piano
  • There is a flower (original composition) for SATB unaccompanied
  • Tomorrow shall be my dancing day from the cycle of carols, Dancing Day for SSA and harp or piano
  • Wexford Carol for SATB unaccompanied
  • What sweeter music for SATB and organ or strings
  • Winchester Te Deum For SATB and Piano or Organ

Anthems and other compositions[edit]

Most of these works are original compositions, including new musical settings of standard texts, whilst others are arrangements of traditional hymns.

Music with narration[edit]

Piano music[edit]

  • The John Rutter Piano Album : arrangements of eight of his most popular choral pieces for solo piano.
  • The John Rutter Christmas Piano Album : eight piano arrangements of Christmas pieces composed by Rutter.[26]



  1. ^ Schwarm, Betsy (20 September 2023). "John Rutter". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  2. ^ a b Macfarlane, Alan. "Interview with John Rutter". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  3. ^ Hughes, Patrick; Davies, Ian F. Highgate School Register 1833–1988 (7th ed.). Castle Cary Press.
  4. ^ a b "About this Recording". Rutter: Requiem/Anthems. Naxos. 2003. Archived from the original on 31 March 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  5. ^ "Composer of the Week: John Rutter". BBC Radio 3. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 28 September 2014 – via YouTube.
  6. ^ "Welcome To Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity". Delta Omicron. Archived from the original on 27 January 2010. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  7. ^ "News". Delta Omicron. 29 March 2008. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  8. ^ "About abcd". Association of British Choral Directors. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  9. ^ "Order of Service". The Daily Telegraph. 28 April 2011. Archived from the original on 29 April 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  10. ^ "In full: The order of service for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee service of thanksgiving". The Daily Telegraph. 3 June 2022. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  11. ^ "Every piece of music at King Charles' coronation service at Westminster Abbey". Classic fm. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  12. ^ "Music of John Rutter". Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  13. ^ a b Leung, Rebecca (11 February 2009). "Spreading Good Cheer". CBS News. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  14. ^ White, Michael (14 December 2001). "The carol singers' shining star". The Daily Telegraph.
  15. ^ Blackwell, David. "Meet John Rutter: Touching people's hearts". Rhinegold. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  16. ^ "John Rutter, Desert Island Discs". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  17. ^ "John Rutter, In Tune Highlights". BBC Radio 3. 18 December 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Expansive Poetry Online". Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  19. ^ "Sing a song of Christmas". The Guardian. 22 December 2000. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  20. ^ "John Rutter: a Life". Classic FM. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  21. ^ "Music for special occasions".
  22. ^ "Christiana Canticles".
  23. ^ "A Flower Remembered". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  24. ^ Rutter, John (2014). A Flower Remembered. Oxford UP. ISBN 978-0-19-340482-3. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  25. ^ BBC Radio 3, Choral Evensong, St Bartholomew-the-Great, London, 22 March 2023. Retrieved 24 March 2023.
  26. ^ "The Piano Collection".


Further reading[edit]

  • Burrows, Helen Jane (1999). Choral Music and the Church of England 1970–1995: A Study of Selected Works and Composer–Church Relations. PhD thesis. Norwich: University of East Anglia.
  • Dakers, Lionel (1978). Making Church Music Work. Oxford and London: Mowbray.
  • Frank, Alan (1976). "John Rutter's Partita for Orchestra". The Musical Times 117, no. 1598 (April): 309.
  • Morrison, Richard (1992). "Tis the Season to Be Authentic". The Times (3 November): 29.
  • Westermeyer, Paul (1994). "John Rutter: Popular Romantic". Christian Century 111, no. 35 (7 December): 1158.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Peter Dennison
Director of Music for Clare College, Cambridge
Succeeded by