The English harpsichordist, organist, and conductor, John Butt, enrolled in 1979 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. Continuing as a graduate student, he studied the music of Bach, surveying articulation markings in autograph manuscripts and receiving his PhD in 1987.
John Butt was subsequently a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and a Fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge. In 1989 he joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley as University Organist and Assistant Professor in Music (Associate Professor in 1992). Two years later he assumed additional duties there when he took on directorship of the University's Chamber Chorus. In 1997 he returned to Cambridge University to serve as a lecturer and fellow at King's College. He also founded there the mixed choir "King's Voices", largely for performances and services at the Chapel. Currently he is Gardiner Chair of Music at the University of Glasgow. He has been elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and received the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association in 2003.
John Butt is a prominent keyboard player (harpsichord and organ) 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. As director of the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus 1991-1997, and the Philharmonia Baroque Chorale, he has participated in many concerts and recordings with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and its director, Nicholas McGegan. He has been guest conductor and a regular soloist for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. During the late 1990's his concert schedule in England and USA increased, and he has featured as a soloist or guest conductor with many orchestras, institutions and festivals. In 1996 he directed a newly discovered Scarlatti opera at the Berkeley Festival. In 1997 he gave memorable readings of George Frideric Handel's Organ Concertos with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 1998 he performed G.F. Handel organ concertos with Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra of Minnesota, and in 1999 appeared at the Carmel Bach Festival. He is co-artistic director of Dunedin Consort.
John Butt's first recordings were appearing in the early 1990's. As a performer, he has made 11 recordings on organ, harpsichord and clavichord with the French label Harmonia Mundi. Among which were Orlando Gibbons - Tudor Church Music (1990), where he served as organist; and Bach Violin Sonatas (1993), where he partnered violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock on the harpsichord. His recordings soon became more frequent and garnered much attention: Johann Kuhnau's Biblical Sonatas (1999) and J.S. Bach's Trio Sonatas, BWV 525-530 (2001) were both well received, as was his album, Edward Elgar, the Complete Organ Work (2002). His most recent solo recordings are the Bach organ toccatas, Schübler chorales, and two programmes for the BBC.
John Butt has authored several books, including Bach Interpretation and Music Education and the Art of Performance in the German Baroque (1994), both issued by Cambridge University Press. He also published a handbook on J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor. His 2003 book, Playing With History, examines historic performance practices. This book is a cultural study of historically-informed performance which was shortlisted for the book prize of the British Academy in 2003. He is also editor of the Cambridge Companion to Bach (1997), consultant editor to the Oxford Companion to Bach (1999), and the Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music. He is currently writing a book on J.S. Bach's passions and their relation to the development of modernity.