British composer Arthur Butterworth completed his 100th opus, a string quartet, in time for his 75th birthday in 1997. Despite his large output based on diverse subjects such as poetry, landscapes, Viking archaeology, and vintage trains and clocks, he remains little-known outside England; his major breakthrough internationally has been in brass band music. An extremely small discography has not helped his career, nor has sometimes being confused with the composer George Butterworth, to whom he is no relation.
He began his musical life as a brass player with the Besses o' the Barn Band in Manchester. He worked in a solicitor's office after finishing school, then joined the Royal Engineers in 1942. Following the second World War he entered the Royal Manchester College of Music, studying composition with Richard Hall for two years, while also studying trumpet and conducting. His first composition was Now on Land and Sea Descending, a setting for contralto and orchestra of "The Vesper Hymn" by Longfellow. The 1948 Suite for Strings was broadcast by the BBC with the London String Orchestra. As a typical example of his bad luck, an acetate disc from this broadcast was pulverized for contractual reasons. His 1949 Sinfonietta was broadcast with the BBC Northern under John Hopkins in 1953. His first symphony, praised for a uniquely British approach to Sibelius and the Nordic school, was premiered by Sir John Barbirolli in 1957. One of his best short works for orchestra, The Path Across the Moors, is one of several evoking the Yorkshire moors. Others are The Moors, a suite for large orchestra and organ, and A Moorland Symphony, written for the 1967 Saddleworth Festival. Three Impressions, written for the Northumberland Youth, has been performed throughout the world. He created the Organ Concerto for Gillian Weir which was performed with the BBC Philharmonic in 1978, followed the same year by the Violin Concerto. This was performed in 1981 with the BBC Scottish Orchestra and the flamboyant violinist Nigel Kennedy, who has said the score is one of the most idiomatic concertos for violin ever written. In fact, Kennedy was shocked to find out that Butterworth was not a violinist himself.
After leaving the RMCM, Butterworth began his career as an instrumentalist playing trumpet with the Scottish National Orchestra and then with the orchestra of Les Hallé from 1955 to 1962. In 1962 he was appointed associate conductor of the Huddersfield Philharmonic Society and in 1964 became permanent conductor. He stayed with this orchestra until 1993. He has guest-conducted many other orchestras, mainly in concerts where his own works have been featured. In the late '90s his Cello Concerto was given a brilliant premiere by young cellist, Rebecca Gilliver, and he managed to create a Saxhorn Sonata for the little-used tenor horn. The new millennium has been kind to Butterworth as a recording artist, since more of his music has been released on compact disc since 2000 than in his entire career.