As an undergraduate at Cambridge University, he held the office of organ scholar at King's College. Continuing as a graduate student working on the music of Bach, he received his PhD in 1987. He was subsequently a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and a Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in 1989 as University Organist and Professor of Music. In autumn 1997 he returned to Cambridge as a University Lecturer and Fellow of King's College, and in October 2001 he took up his current post at Glasgow. His books have been published by Cambridge University Press: they include Bach Interpretation
(1990), a handbook on Bach's Mass in B minor (1991) and Music Education and the Art of Performance in the German Baroque
Marking a new tack, Playing with History
(2002) examined the broad culture of historically informed performance and attempted to explain and justify it as a contemporary phenomenon. Butt is also editor or joint editor of both the Cambridge and Oxford Companions to Bach and of the Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music
(2005). His book on Bach's Passions, Bach's Dialogue with Modernity
, was published in 2010, and explores the ways in which Bach's Passion settings relate to some of the broader concepts of modernity, such as subjectivity and time consciousness.
Butt has been guest conductor with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Irish Baroque Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Cantata Series, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Chamber Orchestra and Chorus. Butt also continues to be active as a solo organist and harpsichordist: 11 recordings on organ, harpsichord and clavichord have been released by Harmonia Mundi. As conductor or organist he has performed throughout the world, including recent trips to Germany, France, Poland, Israel, South Korea, Canada, Belgium, Holland and the Irish Republic.
In 2003 Butt was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and received the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association. That year his book Playing with History was shortlisted for the British Academy's annual Book Prize. In 2006 he was elected Fellow of the British Academy and began a two-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for his research on Bach's Passions. In 2010 he was appointed to the Council of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the following January he became the fifth recipient of the Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation's Bach Prize, for his work in the performance and scholarship of Bach. In 2013 Butt was appointed OBE for his services to music in Scotland.
BBC Radio 3 'In Tune'
'The Dunedin Consort has made a huge impact with a small group of singers...[they] make a very strong case.'Audiophile.no
'a world-class performance'more >>Pizzicato
Supersonic Award: 'This is without any doubt one of the best recordings ever made of this work...'more >>Crescendo
'Une version qui mérite d’être connue et justement appréciée.'more >>HighResMac
'beautiful and surprising facets' / 'schöne und überraschende Facetten'more >>International Record Review
'Butt directs an at once powerful and attractively nuanced performance of the Requiem.'more >>AudioStream
'Download of the Week': 'The sound of this recording is first rate.'more >>Choir & Organ
'Beautifully paced and using period instruments in a chamber-like recording, the classical brass and woodwind create just the right ambience and drama when needed.'more >>Radio Klara
One of Flemish Radio Klara's 'Top 10' picksmore >>Hi-Fi News
'Album Choice': 'Butt’s direction is akin to cleaning an old painting, the colours emerging with a new vividness. An important realisation of a well-loved work.'more >>The Irish Times
'The performance is sinewy and expressive, lit as from within, and captures the contrapuntal writing in a way that can only be called pristine.'more >>RP Online
'The most beautiful Mozart "Requiem"...'more >>Classical Candor
'Among the segments that stood out for me were the "Dies Irae" for its menacing spirit; the "Tuba Mirum," "Recordare," and "Lux Aeterna" for their sweet freshness; and the "Lacrimosa" for its earnest bearing.'The Sunday Times
'Butt gets drama aplenty...'more >>The Telegraph
'The consort of 16 singers and an orchestra of historically aware punch and pungency bring to the music not only a vibrant clarity but also a dramatic intensity in such apocalyptic portions of the Mass...'more >>Gramophone
Recording of the Month: '...one of the finest Mozart Requiems...'more >>The Times
'It’s as though a veil has been lifted...And in the Dunedin Consort’s hands, almost every note, whoever wrote it, thrills, warms, and enchants.'more >>Big Issue
'It’s a performance that reels you in and never lets you go.'more >>Sinfini Music
'Linn’s up-close recording balance captures the dramatic focus and fiery energy generated by the Dunedin Consort.'more >>AllAboutJazz.com
'The results are overwhelming.'more >>MusicWeb International
'...endlessly fascinating...Overall it is an essential addition to any collection of Mozart's choral music.'more >>Retford Times
'stunning'more >>American Record Guide
'Period instrument performances don't get any better than this.'more >>American Record Guide
'...people interested in Bach's passion as liturgy will be fascinated by what is here.'more >>