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John Rutter

John Rutter

Areas of Interest


Honorary Award

Honorary Doctor of Music, 1999


John Rutter was born in London in 1945 and studied music at Clare College, Cambridge. His compositions embrace choral, orchestral, and instrumental music, and he has co-edited various choral anthologies. From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College, and in 1981 formed his own choir, the Cambridge Singers, as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording. He divides his time between composition and conducting and has guest-conducted or lectured at many concert halls, universities, churches, music festivals and conferences in Europe, Scandinavia, and North America. In 2002 his setting of Psalm 150, commissioned for the Queen's Golden Jubilee, was performed at the Service of Thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral, London.


"The Senate of Anglia Polytechnic University has great pleasure in recommending the award of Honorary Doctor of Music to John Rutter for his immense contributions to British music.

In any roll-call of the significant figures in British and indeed western music of the latter part of the 20th century, John Rutter would hold an esteemed position as a composer, as a choral and instrumental conductor and latterly, in the field of musical publishing. He modestly describes himself as a 'jobbing musician', which must be one of the most dramatic understatements of recent times.

John Rutter was born in London in 1945 and received his early musical baptism in Highgate School, where his friends and contemporaries included the incomparable composer John Tavener and Nicholas Snowman, later to be Head of Glyndebourne. His main formative period, however, is largely based on his long sojourn at Clare College, Cambridge, where he produced his first compositions and conducted his first recordings whilst still a student. He became Director of Music at Clare from 1975-1980. It was at this time he fell under the spell of Sir David Willcocks, his long time friend and mentor, whom with Benjamin Britten, he regards as the main formative influence on his musical development. First acting as Sir David's musical backroom boy, as it were (often working to extraordinary tight deadlines reminiscent of Handel at his most pressured), and then as his colleague, they together co-edited four volumes of the renowned 'Carols for Choirs' series, without which the contemporary Christmas would be infinitely impoverished.

These remarkably fruitful years eventually came to an end in 1979 when he gave up the Clare post to allow more time for composition. Choir directors, including your Public Orator, are exceedingly indebted to him for this decision. His compositional career has been prolific and has embraced large and small-scale choral works, orchestral and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, two children's operas, music for television and specialist writing for such groups as the King's Singers and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. The larger choral works, 'Magnificat', 'Requiem', 'Te Deum' and 'Psalmfest' are now an established and loved part of the Choral repertoire, and his editorship of the first 3 volumes in the Oxford Choral Classics Series have brought a wealth of music within easy access of choirs. Unlike many other contemporary composers, John Rutter seems able to make it possible for amateur choirs to perform difficult works of unmistakable style with panache, enjoyment and hopefully precision - a rare gift.

The second strand of John Rutter's 'jobbing musician's life' is as a conductor of international eminence. He founded the Cambridge Singers in 1981 originally as a scratch group to undertake a Christmas television show. It soon became a professional chamber choir of great distinction. Unusually, it is primarily dedicated to recording and some 30 albums have been produced. This is a choir with a rare distinctive and ethereal quality of sound. He is in international demand as a conductor in Europe, North America and Australasia, and cites the Carnegie Hall in New York as one of his favourite and most stimulating regular attachments. He also spent 13 happy years as a part-time Open University Lecturer and is an Honorary Fellow at the Westminster Choir College, Princeton.

He has latterly embarked on the third strand of his career, in music publishing with the Collegium Choral Series. This was established to halt the haemorrhaging into oblivion of much neglected fine music in danger of extinction and there is a great deal for which the musical world is most grateful.

Musicians 'on the rise' so to speak, often come to a point where they have a depressing 'dilemma of choice' as to how to develop their careers further - compose, or conduct, or publish. He has successfully avoided this dilemma - by the very simple decision of doing the lot!

For the future, he has several ongoing crusades. One is to put mixed, as distinct from men and boys chamber choirs, firmly on the map and certainly beyond the world of Oxbridge. This he does through example, by conducting Summer Schools for the Association of British Choral Conductors, Royal School of Church Music, amongst others. Another crusade, to which many of us would subscribe, is the defence of the noble Anglican musical tradition against the more banal philistine expressions, encapsulated in the appellation of 'happy-clappy'. A whole army of semi-quavers is, however, still to emerge from his productive composer's pen. His compositional plans include a Concert Mass (one of the few liturgical forms yet to receive his attention), an Organ Concerto and the completion of Herbert Howell's First Piano Concerto (which was partly lost in World War II).

As I mentioned earlier, Vice Chancellor, 'jobbing musician' is an altogether too limiting a definition of John Rutter, and it is thus with enormous pleasure that I request you to add to his existing Lambeth Doctorate of Music the honorary degree of Doctor of Music of this University. This is in recognition of his quite outstanding contribution to British music, the enhancement of its international status, and not least, to the enrichment of all our Christmases!"