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  • Writer's pictureSimon Rushby

The Lads In Their Hundreds by George Butterworth

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

#listeneveryday 11 Nov 2020

The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,

There's men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,

The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,

And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.

A.E.Housman: A Shropshire Lad (1896)

Today is Remembrance Day, and I can think of few better pieces than George Butterworth's setting of The Lads In Their Hundreds, part of Housman's A Shropshire Lad which Butterworth set to music in 1911.

The 'lads' in Housman's poem were heading off to fight in the Second Boer War (1899-1902), a bitter colonial conflict that took place in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. The young English composer George Butterworth, an avid collector of folk music and a close friend of Vaughan Williams, was becoming noticed as one of Britain's most promising composers when the First World War broke out in 1914.

Butterworth joined the army and soon found himself leading a platoon at the Battle of the Somme. On 5th August 1916, while defending a recently captured German position near Pozières, he was shot by a sniper and killed in action. Butterworth was awarded the Military Cross and his name appears on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardy, France. His body was never recovered though it is likely his men buried him at the point where he fell.

Butterworth wrote precious little in his short life but left a number of beautiful works, many of which were championed by Vaughan Williams, conductor Adrian Boult and others. His music still features in concert programmes, particularly those with an English folk song theme.

Something to do

You can follow the score while listening to this piece here - if you sing or play the piano this is a lovely piece to learn.

There's a short video remembering George Butterworth here.

More to listen to

Here is Roderick Williams (who we heard above) performing Loveliest of Trees, the first song in Butterworth's setting of Housman poems, with an orchestral accompaniment at the BBC Proms in 2014.

Butterworth's orchestral composition The Banks of Green Willow includes folk songs that he collected in Sussex in around 1907. This piece is often associated with remembering those who gave their lives in war.

A new #listeneveryday post is published every weekday! Comment below or tweet @SimonRushby with your suggestions for future music.

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