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Suite Antique: Chanson

by John Rutter


Born on 24 September 1945 in London, John Rutter was educated at Highgate School, where a fellow pupil was the future composer, John Tavener. At school, Rutter already loved to sing and compose. John Rutter’s music embraces hymns, Christmas carols and large-scale choral works. At 18 he wrote his famous Shepherd’s Pipe Carol. In 1974, Rutter visited Nebraska, USA, to conduct the premiere of his cantata Gloria.

Between 1975 and 1979 he returned to Clare College were, as director of music. He raised choral standards to an extremely high level and was becoming more in demand as a conductor Rutter’s larger choral works, Gloria (1974), Requiem (1985), Magnificat (1990), Psalmfest (1993) and Mass of the Children (2003) have been performed countless times in Britain, North America, and a growing number of other countries.

Rutter’s music shows the influences of the French and English choral traditions of the early 20th century, as well as of light music and American classic songwriting. Almost every choral anthem and hymn that he writes, in addition to the standard piano or organ accompaniment, has a subsequent orchestral accompaniment as well, using varied instrumentation.

Rutter co-edited four volumes in the Carols for Choirs series with Sir David Willcocks, and, later, edited the first two volumes in the Oxford Choral Classics series, Opera Choruses (1995) and European Sacred Music (1996).

In 1996 the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Lambeth Doctorate of Music upon John Rutter in recognition of his contribution to church music. He was also honoured in the 2007 Queen’s New Year Honours List, receiving a CBE for services to music.

The Suite Antique

Suite Antique is a 1979 concertante work written for harpsichord, flute and string orchestra. Rutter composed the piece, in six movements, for a concert at which Bach’s fifth Brandenburg concerto was to be performed, and so decided to write the piece for the same ensemble. Each movement is based on Baroque or classical style. The Aria is based on Baroque style, very reminiscent of J.S. Bach


Chanson is a lyrical musical form originated in medieval France as the chanson de geste (“song of heroic deeds”), epic poems recounting the glorious tales of famous heroes set to music. The songs consisted of a single melody unaccompanied by harmony or chords. Over the next few centuries the chanson form continued to develop to incorporate more complex musical techniques and lyrics that moved away from the epics to the subject of  love.

The modern version of the chanson emerged between the 1880s and the end of World War II with the chanson réaliste style. Born in the Parisian cafés and cabarets within the Montmartre district (chiefly in the Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir theaters) this form of chanson was influenced by literature . These movements were interested in depicting how the environment and circumstances of one’s youth shaped and governed one’s character.