John Butt is a prominent English keyboard player and conductor who has focused largely on music of the Baroque period.
He is also a pedagogue and widely considered an authority on the music of J.S. Bach and its performance, as well as on German Baroque music in general. He has authored several books on these subjects including Bach Interpretation and Music Education and the Art of Performance in the German Baroque, both issued by Cambridge University Press.
John Butt was born in Solihull, England, in 1960. In 1979 he enrolled at King's College, Cambridge University, where as an undergraduate he attained the post of organ scholar. Among his teachers were Gillian Weir and Peter Hurford. Butt went on to earn a doctorate degree in 1987 from Cambridge, having devoted much study to the music of J.S. Bach. In 1989 he joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, where he also served as university organist. Two years later he assumed additional duties there when he took on directorship of the university's chamber chorus. By the early 1990s Butt's first recordings were appearing on the Harmonia Mundi label, among which were Orlando Gibbons: Tudor Church Music (1993), where he served as organist; and Bach Violin Sonatas (1993), where he partnered violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock on the harpsichord. During this period he also developed a relationship with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and its director, Nicholas McGegan, both in concert and the recording studio.
1997 was a pivotal year for him: he returned to Cambridge University to serve as a lecturer and fellow at King's College. He also founded a mixed choir there, largely for performances and services at the chapel. His concert schedule in England and United States increased that year as well, Butt giving memorable readings of Handel Organ Concertos with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Butt's recordings soon became more frequent and garnered much attention: Kuhnau's Biblical Sonatas (1999) and Bach's Trio Sonatas, BWV 525-30 (2001), for Harmonia Mundi, were both well received, as was his album, Elgar: Complete Works for Organ (2002). Butt has continued his activity as a teacher and performing artist in the new century, and as an author, too: his 2003 book, Playing With History, examines historic performance practices. He became director of Scotland's Dunedin Consort also in 2003, and together they have made acclaimed recordings of Handel's Messiah and Bach's Passions.