John Rutter - Composer Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

John Rutter - Composer

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John Rutter is one of the heroes of 20th Century British classical music. Choirs up and down the land would be impoverished without his work, and Christmas somehow wouldn't seem the same without his works lilting in the frosty air.

Most of his works are crowd pleasers, if occasionally verging on the twee, and he generally provides worthwhile parts for all the voices (which is particularly appreciated by altos, who often end up singing the same two or three notes throughout a piece). There is a tendency for more serious critics to look down their noses at Rutter's work, but this is unfair: it is, for the most part, pleasant to listen to and within the grasp of any decent church choir or choral society. It may not be as fashionably minimalist as Arvo Pärt, but it is good music - good to perform and good to listen to.


Born in London in 1945, Rutter received his early musical education as a chorister at Highgate School. He went on to study music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he wrote his first published compositions and conducted his first recording while still a student.

From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College, whose choir he directed in a number of broadcasts and recordings. After giving up the Clare post to allow more time for composition, he formed the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording, and he now divides his time between composition and conducting. He has guest-conducted or lectured at many concert halls, universities, churches, music festivals, and conferences in Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Australasia. In 1980, he was made an Honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, and in 1988 a Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians. In 1996, the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Lambeth Doctorate of Music upon him in recognition of his contribution to church music.


Rutter has composed and arranged music for choirs of all sizes, for orchestras and for solo instruments. His oeuvre includes countless hymns and carols, two children's operas, music for television and for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King's Singers.

In 1985 he wrote his Requiem, an approachable work which is often performed to good effect by amateur choirs. He also co-edited (with Sir David Willcocks) volumes of the Carols for Choirs series, used by many - if not most - British choirs since their publication beginning in 1961.

His work in this series includes a particularly fine arrangement of Lowell Mason's 'Joy To The World' (words by Isaac Watts), and a wonderful arrangement of 'Rise Up, Shepherd, And Follow', a spiritual. His 'Magnificat' is also regularly performed.

He has also written settings of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', 'Psalm 23' (The Lord is My Shepherd') and 'God Be in my Head', all of which are regularly heard in churches around the world.

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