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James Butt F.I.A.L. (1929-2003)

Composer, Pianist, Publisher

Sphemusations was the imprint of my father, James Butt. The name, which he joked sounded like a musical sneeze, was the response after being informed that the name "Sphere Music Publishing" was unavailable, since there was already a Sphere publishing company.

Specializing in music for educational and religious institutions, the company ceased trading in 1995 but stocks of printed music are now available from The Book Patch (total US$ 5 for piano score ($3.75) and vocal solo part ($1.25)). Of particular interest are the Little Boy Dances for use in primary school education, and the various sacred solos for use in churches.

Music    Biography    Discography    Press    Published Works

Sacred solos by James Butt:

God's Eternity
(Piano/organ score) - (H.C.Kelly and James Butt). The lyric, which was written by the composer's father-in-law, so impressed the composer that he set it to music, feeling that it would add a valuable enhancement to services of worship.) Vocal solo only.)

Christ whose glory fills the skies
(Piano/organ score) - (C.Wesley and James Butt). The lyric of a familiar, and much-loved hymn by Charles Wesley breathes new life with the music of James Butt. (Vocal solo only).

Holy Spirit
(Piano/organ score). The lyric by Thomas Lynch blends with the composer's pungent harmonies in this passionate invocation to the Spirit of God. (Vocal solo only).

Gracious Spirit
(Piano/organ score) - (Thomas Lynch and James Butt) (Vocal solo only).

The Peace of God
(Piano/organ score) - (Phil. ch.4; v.7-9) dedicated to Sir Peter Pears and Lord Benjamin Britten. (Vocal solo only).

The King of Love
(Piano/organ score) - Sir H.Baker and H.C.Kelly, arr. James Butt, this is essentially a paraphrasing of the Twenty-Third Psalm. (Vocal solo only)

All Praise to Thee My God
(Piano/organ score) - (Thomas Ken and James Butt), a beautiful evening hymn. (Vocal solo only)

(Piano/organ score), words from Joshua, ch.1; v.5, King James Bible. (Vocal solo only)

River Of Life
(Piano/organ score), words from Revelations, ch.22, King James Bible, music by James Butt. (Vocal solo only)

Psalm 1
(Piano/organ score), words from King James Bible, music by James Butt. (Vocal solo only)

Psalm 90
(Piano/organ score), words from King James Bible, music by James Butt. A prayer of Moses, the man of God. (Vocal solo only)

Psalm 150
(Piano/organ score), words from King James Bible, music by James Butt. The joyful musician's psalm! (Vocal solo only)

O Lord Where'ere Thy People Meet
(Piano/organ score), W.Cowper and James Butt. (Vocal solo only)

Let The Most Blessed Be My Guide
(Piano/organ score), John Bunyan and James Butt, this song was sung by Mercy in the second part of Bunyan's “A Pilgrim’s Progress”(Vocal solo only)

Please contact me for more information about the Sphemusations edition.

Tel:1-802-626-9202 (USA)
44-(0)1449-613388 (UK)

Myscha Butt
228 Deer Run Lane
Vermont 05851

Music    Biography    Discography    Press    Published Works

Biographical information

Professionally employed from the age of sixteen, the reputation of James Butt as a composer is established internationally. His oeuvre comprises 276 completed works, ranging from avant garde to more popular musical artistry, unfolding a clearly defined individual style.

An important principle in his composition has always been to try to create music which is beautiful, giving listeners and performers a pleasurable experience.

Born at Northwood, Middlesex, in 1929 James Butt was educated at Kidstones School, in Yorkshire, before studying composition, from 1944 onwards, with Dr. Erwin Stein, Benjamin Britten, (doing large quantities of copying in exchange for composition lessons,) and Matyas Seiber, as well as pianoforte with Franz Osborne. Between 1947-1948 he served with the R.A.F. as an RIO. before going to the Dartington School of Music, where he completed his studies under the supervision of Imogen Holst. (The Dartington Music School has since become a department of Exeter University.) While still a student he was awarded the Dartington Open Scholarship for 1950, which made possible a brief period of study in Berlin, where he met many leading European musicians of that time.

On leaving Dartington Hall in 1952 James Butt toured England with the Continental Ballet Company, playing as first pianist, before becoming deputy headmaster of Cary Park School, Torquay, in 1954. In 1963 James Butt founded the company of Sphemusations, which has since grown rapidly.

As a pianist James Butt has taken part in many recitals, broadcasts, and recordings, both as soloist and accompanist, playing in duet with Franz Osborne, Dr. Imogen Holst, C.R.E. Niven Miller, Pamela Hind O'Malley, Joseph Segal, (who later became founder-leader of the Northern Sinfonia,) Neil van Allen, and Noelle Barker, C.RE.; an early success being the first recording Little Boy Dances suites 1,2,3, and 4, made with Grahame Sudbury, M.A. Before his retirement due to ill health in 1995 he was pianist to the English Pianoforte Trio, and accompanist to Gillian Benjamin, the excellent young violoncellist.

As conductor of the Woodbridge orchestra he increased the scope of their repertoire, and number of concerts, giving first performances of new and original works.

Among works which have been performed are four operas entitled Noah, The Laughter of the Gods, Fox's Folly and The Snow Queen; orchestral works have been played by most orchestras of international repute.

The first music by James Butt to be published was a part-song entitled Orpheus copyrighted in 1952 by Novello and company. Since that time 75 works have been published altogether, selling 157,000 copies between them. Works have been broadcast regularly in BBC. programmes, and many also transmitted in American, European, Indian, Australian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Israeli and Greek programmes.

Music performed to large audiences includes Robert Burns' Address to a Haggis, (Robert Burns,) sung by Niven Miller at the Scottish New Year celebrations, Festival Hall, in 1958:' Little Boy Dances suites 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 8, at the Albert Hall in 1960, Ring Out Wild Bells, at the United Reformed Church, Stowmarket, 1977, and sacred solos which have been recorded, broadcast, and beamed by satellite to European broadcasting networks. His sacred solo, The King of Love was recorded by WORD INCORPORATED of WACO, Texas, several years ago, with sales of 30,000 copies.

Commissioned works include the song cycle A Summer's Day for Niven Miller; (performed at Edinburgh in 1953.) The two Winsome's Folly suites, and Suite for Horn, for Winsome Bartlett, at Dartington. The cantata Bless the Lord O My Soul, for the Very Rev. Canon Walter Hussey, at St. Matthews Church, Northampton. As I Was Young, for Sir Peter Pears; Eleven Folk Tune Arrangements, for small orchestra; (for the BBC.) A Dramatic Sinfonietta, for the Phoenix Quintet; A Rainbow Plantation, for Margaret Lindsay soprano and Brian Davis, harpist; Ring Out Wild Bells for the Suffolk Education Authority; Jubilee Dance Variations, for clarinet and pianoforte, for Jack Brymer; and Sonata for Flute and Guitar for the Duo Cantare; (Michael Axtell and Andrew Planton), and Concerto for Four Brass Bands. for Derek Cable and the Stowmarket Schools Concert Band.

Following a disabling stroke in 1995, James Butt continued to write music until his death in March 2003.

Music    Biography    Discography    Press    Published Works


Cronan and Ho-Ro My Nut Brown Maiden, recorded for Waverley Records in 1960,and later acquired by E.M.I. (Sales, 2000.)

For Your Delight, (the 5 songs for high voice, flute and pianoforte,) Bellman's Song, Joys Seven, I Got Me Flowers, Virtue, They That Have Power, Sunset , and A Christmas Carol were all included on the recording A Recital of Songs by James Butt, performed by the Vincian Trio, Valerie Cardnell, soprano, Lammond Clelland, flute, and Margot Bor, Pianoforte, in 1961. (Sales, 200.)

Little Boy Dances suites 1, 2, 3, & 4 recorded by James Butt and Grahame Sudbury in 1963 for Sphemusations. (Sales, 3200.)

Seven Simple Songs and Seven Nursery Rhymes were recorded by Noell Barker, L.R.A.M.,C.B.E., and James Butt, for Sphemusations, in 1963. (Sales 200.) .

Little Boy Dances suite 5: African Suite, 6: Indian Suite, 7: American Suite, and 8 English Suite, were all recorded for Sphemusations by James Butt in 1967. (Sales 3500.)

A Rainbow Plantation, settings of poems by Anna Adams, was recorded by Andree Back, soprano, and Phyllis Schlomowitz, harp, for Jupiter Recordings, in California, and Sphemusations, (U.K.) in 1983, (selling 400 copies altogether.) A third recording is currently being made by Patricia Clark soprano, and Gillian Tingay, harp, for Thames Publishing.

Sonata for Flute and Guitar, (performed by Michael Axtell, flute and Andrew Planton, guitar,) and Dramatic Sinfonietta for wind quintet, performed by the Lydian Ensemble for the recording entitled Music for Mime, released by Sphemusations, 1985. (Sales, 65 copies.)

The song Weathers, as well as Sacred Solos entitled PSALM 1, PSALM 150, RIVER OF LIFE, AN EVENING HYMN, and HOLY SPIRIT are all known to have been recorded recently by major companies, and The King of Love was recorded by Word Incorporated, at Waco, Texas, in 1988, with sales of 30,000 copies.

Music    Biography    Discography    Press    Published Works

Press Comments

'Niven Miller's best singing came in the set of songs by James Butt; the latter has been a pupil of Matyas Seiber and Imogen Holst, and, for what the terms are worth, represents the tradition of British song-writing. The means were quite simple, both as regards the vocal line, and the piano part. But the composer showed an ability, like Britten, of suddenly transforming the commonplace into inspiration. It is a kind of x-ray quality, searching out the meaning of the verse. It was interesting, too, to find that the words 'wantons' and 'precious stones' in Herrick's To Dianeme' were emphasised with the same kind of harmonic jab as Purcell used in 'The Meditation'.-: John Amis, Edinburgh Festival, The Scotsman, 1954.

With music by James Butt, who lives at Torquay, a new opera 'The Laughter of the Gods ' was given at the Cowdray Hall last night. In this new work the composer has certainly got the feeling of the story that is being told, and some of his passages showed a power that was most exhilarating.-: Western Morning News: 21st April 1955.

Myra Verney introduced London to Three Mystical Songs by James Butt. While clearly 'revealing the influence of his teacher, Benjamin Britten, the music's idiom is authoritatively handled'. J.W. Warrack, The Telegraph, 16th November 1957.

Another item of interest in this intelligently varied programme was the first performance anywhere of James Butt's 'Three Mystical Songs' (to lyrics by Hopkins, Milton, and Eliot respectively,) which were written especially for Miss Verney. It is easy for a critic, faced by a new work and relatively unknown composer, to talk vaguely and politely about the piece, concluding with an 'but' or 'yet' or some other familiar damning phrase. So I will say without hesitation that these songs were immediately attractive on first hearing, that they were well laid out for the voice and slightly less so for the piano. This composer deserves to be taken very much to heart by those people in the West who want composers to go on writing music, as opposed to those who are content peacefully in the bosom of the old masters:- Bath Chronicle, 23rd March 1956.

Spheare Publications, (now Sphemusations). Psalm 1 by James Butt. This setting of a beautiful Psalm for high voice and organ pays strict regard to the speech rhythm of the words. Mills Music.

Virtue by James Butt. George Herbert's moving poem has inspired James Butt. The song has a good vocal tune and the composer shows originality in his harmonies.' Davis Money, The Musical Times, February 1959.

The Craftsmanship (of "A Rainbow Plantation", included in "The Magic of Voice and Harp" performed by Andree Back and Phyllis Schlomowitz) is undoubted. G. Crankshaw, The Gramophone, May 1984.

Music    Biography    Discography    Press    Published Works

Published Works

All the music listed is now available
in Adobe PDF format on CD.

Ask for details

The Carol of the Ship
Taking a traditional carol as a theme, this skillfully crafted music carries the salt tang of the open sea and a wooden ship under sail "with angels flying fast".
for voice and piano

Loveliest of Trees
The poem by A.E.Housman, set to music by James Butt, this song is a refreshing breath of English spring air with the rhythm of a carefree canter.
for voice and piano

Address to a Haggis
Robert Burns' poem "Address to a Haggis" has been an important part of Burns Night Suppers for many years. The highlight of the supper, the haggis is carried to the table in high ceremony, accompanied by the music of the highland pipes, and the Address is read before serving the haggis to the diners.

James Butt's setting of Robert Burns' "Address to a Haggis" was composed in 1957 in response to a request from the Scottish baritone Niven Miller. With rich harmonies pleasing to the ear and unmistakeably characteristic of the best traditions of the mid-twentieth century, the composition pays tribute to the long traditions of Scottish folk music with its liberal gracenotes, while at the same time honouring the nature of the poetry; the serious and dignified eulogy gives way to a hasty scramble for the best delicacies before a chord worthy of a hymn announces "bethankit!"

The music also embodies the virtue of brevity, enabling the song to be performed and the Scottish national dish honoured properly without subjecting it to the indignity of being served lukewarm.
for voice and piano

A Rainbow Plantation
For many years Anna Adams accompanied her family to the Hebridean isle of Scarp for summer holidays where her husband Norman Adams produced some of his finest paintings, and the elemental forces that govern island life were distilled in Anna's writings. This evocative song cycle sets these poems to music that reflects the changing moods of the island and the unique insights of the poet.
for voice and harp

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