December 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Cheers! Lost Christmas Drinking Song Discovered

Festive news from Oxford today: a long-lost song by English composer George Butterworth has been found in the Bodleian Libraries. The three-page score sets to music a poem by Robert Bridges, beginning with the words, "Crown winter with green," and speaking of "This good Yuletide."

To celebrate this discovery, the library has made a recording of the song, sung by John Lee with Guy Newbury on piano. Listen here:

Crown winter with green by George Butterworth. Sung by John Lee with Guy Newbury (piano). Recording technician: Dan Hulme.

Butterworth, a promising composer, was killed in World War I, leaving little of his music behind with the exception of settings of A. E. Housman's poems from A Shropshire Lad and an orchestral idyll, The Banks of Green Willow. This newfound score is, according to the Bodleian, "believed to be the only surviving copy of this Butterworth composition."

Discovered among a collection of uncatalogued music manuscripts (i.e., backlog) at the Bodleian's Weston Library, the score is not in Butterworth's hand, although some unknown copyist has written "Butterworth" on the manuscript in red pen. Librarians believe it likely that the manuscript was in the possession of Butterworth's friend Sir Hugh Allen, a professor of music at Oxford whose collection of music and books was incorporated into the library upon his death in 1946.

In addition to the recording, a pop-up display of the manuscript is scheduled at the Weston Library from December 14-18.

Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, said: "With more than 12 million printed items, including more than half a million musical scores, the Bodleian Libraries' collections are full of treasures but it's not often we discover a gem like this. This rare musical score adds another work to Butterworth's small but distinguished musical legacy and we are delighted to be putting in on display for all to see."