IT IS one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music. George Butterworth's exquisitely orchestrated rhapsody Shropshire Lad wells with emotion.

Its melancholic motif of utter poignancy is all the more laden with meaning as the composer was to die years later in what is regarded as one of the greatest musical tragedies of all time.

Butterworth, a lieutenant in the 13th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, was killed in action at the Somme in 1916 at the age of 31. Tomorrow, the memory of Butterworth, who died alongside many other talented young men, will be honoured when Shropshire Lad forms the centrepiece of a concert programme performed by Durham Sinfonia - within sight of the DLI chapel in Durham Cathedral.

Butterworth, a friend of Vaughan Williams - a fellow admirer of old English folk tunes - and a pupil of the great organist and director of the Royal College of Music, Hubert Parry, wrote the Orchestral Rhapsody in 1911, three years before the outbreak of the First World War.

The composition takes as its setting AE Houseman's famous poetry cycle of the same name. The melancholy mood of the poetry is reflected in Butterworth's orchestration as both poetry and music echo the poignancy of the young men who "come home no more".

Born in London, his father moved to York, where George was brought up, to become general manager of the North-Eastern Railway. Butterworth was educated at Eton, Trinity College, Oxford, and, for a short time, the Royal College of Music, where he studied with the director, Hubert Parry.

His friendship with Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp no doubt strengthened the interest in folk songs, which is so apparent in his compositions - simple yet profound, exquisitely crafted and deeply moving.

On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, he joined the DLI as a lieutenant in the 13th Battalion. During his year in the trenches, he was mentioned in dispatches for outstanding courage and awarded the Military Cross for his defence of a trench that was subsequently named after him. He led a successful raid during the Battle of the Somme, but was killed by a sniper's bullet on August 5, 1916. His memorial is at Thiepval.

It was almost prophetic that Housman's work, with its undercurrent of death and the pointless nature of war, should have attracted Butterworth.

Other works to be performed at the concert (7.30), under the baton of Philippe Bach, are the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, with soloist Geoffrey Silver, and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.

Durham Sinfonia is a large independent symphony orchestra comprising gifted players from the Durham/Newcastle area. The orchestra engages professional conductors, leaders and soloists of international repute, players coming together just three times a year to perform challenging orchestral works to the highest standards.

Tickets are £12, concessions £10, undergraduates and students with NUS card £6, accompanied 16s or under free, from Durham Tourist Information Centre, ring 0191- 384-3720.