We interviewed John Butt, Music Director of Dunedin Consort, Professor of Music at Glasgow University and former organ scholar at King’s College Cambridge, ahead of the 24 March premiere of CMF on Film: Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, with Dunedin Consort.
What is your first musical memory?
Well, plenty of them, beginning with my father playing Bach, Mozart and Beethoven on the piano most mornings. First datable memory is Telstar, by the Tornados, a hit in 1962, which I heard at Christmas that year, just after my 2nd birthday.
What was the first instrument you learned and what did you like (and not like) about it?
Piano at 5- teacher gave me up after about 2 months. I disliked the look of the treble clef, but continued to mess around on the piano until I took up violin at 8.
Does playing the organ appeal to a different aspect of your personality than playing/directing from the harpsichord?
Well only to the extent that I tend to play a lot more 19th and 20th century music on the organ. But trying to understand and be involved in the entire texture is one of the things I like about the organ, which is very similar to playing and/or directing (although people tend to be rather more friendly than pipes).
Who have been the biggest musical influences in your life?
My father, then Uncle Tony, who played organ, harpsichord and piano; a couple of excellent teachers – Colin Edmundson in Solihull, and Gillian Weir for nearly 8 years.
How have you kept busy during the last year of lockdowns?
Very busy since we have to prepare lectures on Zoom – there’s plenty of university work to do, and I’ve been trying to keep in practice on keyboards.
Which person, living or dead, would you like to meet?
Probably J.S. Bach although I doubt he’d say much to me.
What are your other interests outside music?
Most of them cross over with music – like Musicality and Film, the history of ideas; but there are plenty of other obsessions like classic cars, whisky, London’s hidden River Fleet; and a few more…
What do you think people enjoy so much about the Brandenburg Concertos?
Vitality and wit always come to mind – also a sense that Bach got to understand our co-ordination of movement, body and brain, just before we recognise it!
As we approach Easter, a burning question for Bach fans: Matthew or John?
I prefer the John, but the Matthew is better
Another burning question: cats or dogs?
I’m definitely a cat person, but I prefer dogs.