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John Rutter is one of England's best-known composers of the late 20th century, as well as a widely respected choral conductor and music scholar and editor. While his choral works, both small and large — including the Gloria (1974), Magnificat (1990), Requiem (1985), Psalmfest (1993), and Mass of the Children (2003) — are the most familiar, he has written instrumental works, including a piano concerto; two children's operas; and music for television. Rutter also composed specially for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King's Singers.
He began his musical career as a member of the Highgate School chorus, continued to study organ, and went on to Cambridge University, where he studied at Clare College. At the age of 30, in 1975, he returned to Clare, where he served as director of music. In 1979, however, he left the position in order to give more attention to composing and to conducting. He still contributed to the study of choral music, acting as an editor on the Carols for Choirs series along with Sir David Willcocks and on the Opera Choruses (1995) and European Sacred Music (1996) volumes of the Oxford Choral Classics series. He formed the Cambridge Singers in 1981, primarily to record his and others' music, and again he left off leadership of the group in order to concentrate on composing and conducting. He was made an honorary fellow by Westminster Choir College, Princeton in 1980, and a fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians in 1988. In 1996, he was awarded a Lambeth Doctorate of Music by the Archbishop of Canterbury, for his services to church music. In addition to all of these activities, he manages the CD label, Collegium Records, largely devoted to his own music. He continues to guest conduct and lecture around the world. He was awarded a CBE for his services to music in the 2007 Queen's New Year Honours List.
Musically his works show very distinct influences from the past. He has a strong sense of the English musical traditions, and some of the more significant English musical influences on his work include Ralph Vaughn Williams, William Walton, and Benjamin Britten. Non-English influences include Fauré, Gregorian chant, and Bach. His Suite Antique is a direct tribute to the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, written for the same instruments and in the same style. His music's immediate accessibility, being both tuneful and expressive, and its wide general appeal, have earned him a place in the English musical tradition, and while he is most popular in England and the United States, his music is performed worldwide, particularly by church choirs.