John Rutter: What Sweeter Music

by John Birge
December 9, 2009
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MPR's John Birge with composer John Rutter in the studio. (MPR)

For their Welcome Christmas concerts this weekend, VocalEssence sings a tribute to the English composer John Rutter. One of his most beloved Christmas carols, "What Sweeter Music," became famous in America when it was used in a Volvo television commercial. Rutter told Classical Minnesota Public Radio's John Birge that it almost didn't happen.

For a composer who has created some of the most eloquent Christmas music, it may come as a surprise to learn that Rutter himself is not a believer, at least in the conventional sense. In that, he allies himself with another great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who said "I'm agnostic, but I wouldn't be who I am if it weren't for Christianity. It's given me my values, and a strong sense of faith. But I'm a fellow traveler rather than a believer. " But Rutter says that the Anglican Church remains central to his being: In 2002, Rutter's 19 year-old son died in an automobile accident. While Rutter's grief temporarily interrupted his composing, he retained his faith in the gift of life.