Bringing the music of the past to life

Professor John Butt has been influential in bringing ‘historically informed’ music performance to audiences across the world.

His major monograph, Playing with History (2002) established many of the primary questions regarding the role of historically informed performance in contemporary culture – such as how it ties into other historical conditions and its potential to refresh many aspects of classical music culture.

His recordings each require different degrees of scholarly engagement and research, which is integrated into fresh study of primary sources and preparation of new performing editions. Butt’s 2006 Messiah won that year’s Classic FM/Gramophone Baroque Vocal Album and the Marché International du Disque et de l'Edition Musicale awards, giving it immediate worldwide renown in the classical arena.

Gramophone Magazine stated ‘Butt and the Dunedin Consort marry astute scholarship to sincere artistic expression and the result is comfortably the freshest, most natural, revelatory and transparently joyful Messiah I have heard for a very long time.’

Further accolades have included the nomination of the 2009 recording of Acis and Galatea for a ClassicFM/Gramophone Award; together with Bach’s Matthew Passion they were named the ‘recordings of choice’ in BBC Radio 3’s ‘Building a Library’, greatly enhancing their sales. In 2011, Gramophone Magazine listed the Dunedin Consort as 11th in the World’s Greatest Choirs.

The blending of historical performance knowledge and musical expertise brings audiences the freshness and originality that would have been conveyed when the pieces were first performed several hundred years ago. Taking this approach with such familiar pieces as Messiah, Bach’s Passions and Mass, and Handel’s Cannons has enriched the classical music culture for both audiences and critics, and for producers Linn Records, a high-quality niche producer with a stable but modest turnover, the release of the Dunedin Consort’s historically informed version of Messiah became the highest profile, best-selling production at that point in their history.

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