The Music of Herbert Howells

The Music of Herbert Howells

Phillip A. Cooke
David Maw
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt31njzw
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  • Book Info
    The Music of Herbert Howells
    Book Description:

    Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was a prodigiously gifted musician and the favourite student of the notoriously hard-to-please Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Throughout his long life, he was one of the country's most prominent composers, writing extensively in all genres except the symphony and opera. Yet today he is known mostly for his church music, and there is as yet relatively little serious study of his work. This book is the first large-scale study of Howells's music, affording both detailed consideration of individual works and a broad survey of general characteristics and issues. Its coverage is wide-ranging, addressing all aspects of the composer's prolific output and probing many of the issues that it raises. The essays are gathered in five sections: Howells the Stylist examines one of the most striking aspect of the composer's music, its strongly characterised personal voice; Howells the Vocal Composer addresses both his well-known contribution to church music and his less familiar, but also important, contribution to the genre of solo song; Howells the Instrumental Composer shows that he was no less accomplished for his work in genres without words, for which, in fact, he first made his name; Howells the Modern considers the composer's rather overlooked contribution to the development of a modern voice for British music; and Howells in Mourning explores the important impact of the death of Michael on his father's life and work. The composer that emerges from these studies is a complex figure: technically fluent but prone to revision and self-doubt; innovative but also conservative; a composer with an improvisational sense of flow who had a firm grasp of musical form; an exponent of British musical style who owed as much to continental influence as to his national heritage. This volume, comprising a collection of outstanding essays by established writers and emergent scholars, opens up the range of Howells's achievement to a wider audience, both professional and amateur. PHILLIP COOKE is Lecturer in Composition at the University of Aberdeen. DAVID MAW is Tutor and Research Fellow in Music at Oriel College, Oxford, holding Lectureships also at Christ Church, The Queen's and Trinity Colleges. CONTRIBUTORS: Byron Adams, Paul Andrews, Graham Barber, Jonathan Clinch, Phillip Cooke, Jeremy Dibble, Lewis Foreman, Fabian Huss, David Maw, Diane Nolan-Cooke, Lionel Pike, Paul Spicer, Jonathan White. Foreword by John Rutter.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-184-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. List of Musical Examples
    (pp. x-xiv)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. List of Contributors
    (pp. xvi-xvii)
  7. Foreword
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
    John Rutter

    I remember him so clearly: a sweet, silvery-haired gentleman, scarcely over five feet tall, still strikingly handsome in his eighties and always immaculately debonair in his attire, though you sensed that the beautifully cut suits had been made many years before and were carefully looked after. His speech was an elegant, expressive Oxford drawl; no trace remained of the west-country burr he must have had as a child. When a woman was present, his face would light up with a smile that had made many feminine hearts melt, and somehow his troubling deafness would disappear. He had charm, a now...

  8. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  9. Introduction: Paradox of an Establishment Composer
    (pp. 1-8)
    David Maw

    The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II is a fitting time to take stock of Herbert Howells’s compositional achievement and legacy. He was one of the distinguished British composers commissioned to write for the coronation ceremony; and his work for this occasion, the Introit ‘Behold, O God Our Defender’(HH 276)¹, composed by his account on Christmas Day in 1952,² seemingly epitomises his position. Aged sixty, he was a doyen of the English musical establishment. A professor at the Royal College of Music (RCM) since 1920, he was an accomplished and highly respected composer of church music who could be counted...

  10. PART I Howells the Stylist

    • CHAPTER 1 ‘In matters of art friendship should not count’: Stanford and Howells
      (pp. 10-21)
      Jonathan White

      Although his reputation as a composer is still the subject of continuing scholarly exploration, the position of Charles Villiers Stanford as one of the most notable musical educators in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been well documented both officially and in numerous anecdotal memories. Through his positions at the University of Cambridge and the Royal College of Music (RCM), Stanford had unprecedented access to much of Britain’s emerging musical talent, and the list of students who passed through his teaching rooms in both establishments could double as a ‘Who’s Who’ of British music of the...

    • CHAPTER 2 Howells and Counterpoint
      (pp. 22-36)
      Lionel Pike

      The music of Herbert Howells is inseparable from counterpoint: indeed, he considered himself to belong to the Tudor period ‘not only musically but in every way’.¹ That was an intensely polyphonic era, and he himself normally thought in counterpoint (a trait he shared with Vaughan Williams). Thus the underlying feeling of ‘H. H. His Fancy’ (written in 1927)² is of a meditative and dreamy fugue, the word ‘Fancy’ standing both for the Tudor idea of ‘imitative fantasia’ and for ‘the kind of music most admired by H. H’. As it happens, ‘Foss’s Dump’ (no. 6 in the same collection) is...

    • CHAPTER 3 Window on a Complex Style: Six Pieces for Organ
      (pp. 37-60)
      Diane Nolan Cooke

      The compositional style of Herbert Howells, the essence of which is admittedly difficult to articulate, seems to generate scholarly descriptions that fall into two categories. The first may be illustrated by some phrases of Christopher Palmer, taken from his discussion of Howells’s impressionistic tendencies: ‘… the lines indeterminate and soft-drawn, the sum-total of texture a complex seen mistily through a haze of water or light … effortless interweaving of myriad coloured strands, fluid, self-generating, kaleidoscopic …’.¹ Such lofty and picturesque language, with an emphasis on visual metaphor, is common in attempts to describe a sound-world that can be mystifying even...

  11. PART II Howells the Vocal Composer

    • CHAPTER 4 ‘Hidden Artifice’: Howells as Song-Writer
      (pp. 62-85)
      Jeremy Dibble

      Through the legacy of a song tradition kindled with such fertile imagination by his revered masters, Parry and Stanford, and the powerful ambience of a new, nationally conscious art, fired on the one hand by the co-option of Elizabethan and Jacobean verse and on the other by the prevalent contemporary aesthetic of both Housman and the emerging Georgian poets, it was perhaps inevitable for a neo-Elizabethan lyricist such as Herbert Howells, a lover of literature, prose and the spoken word, to turn the idiom of song into an expression of his own particular fastidious chemistry of melody and harmony. More...

    • CHAPTER 5 A ‘Wholly New Chapter’ in Service Music: Collegium regale and the Gloucester Service
      (pp. 86-99)
      Phillip A. Cooke

      These words were written by the composer in 1967 as the sleeve note for a recording of Herbert Howells’ Church Music that was released on the Argo record label.² As well as providing useful information to the listener, it also acts as a blueprint for Howells’s aesthetic when composing music for the evening service, the largest and most performed part of his oeuvre. This quotation not only sets out Howells’s compositional agenda but also suggests that the composer felt there were deficiencies in the extant settings that could no doubt be remedied by his unique and idiosyncratic compositional voice. This...

    • CHAPTER 6 Howells’s Use of the Melisma: Word Setting in His Songs and Choral Music
      (pp. 100-116)
      Paul Spicer

      Melisma (the writing of a number of notes to one syllable) is a fundamental element in Howells’s compositional style. We will examine its varied use, his motivation for using it, and its effectiveness. Saint Augustine famously wrote of singing without words as expressing feelings too deep for words. He was referring to the ecstasy of, for instance, a melismatic ‘Alleluia’ sung to Gregorian chant where the word is suspended mid-syllable and pure melody takes over. This is something Howells understood instinctively and often emulated. Melisma¹ is a very common compositional tool and it may seem odd to focus on such...

  12. PART III Howells the Instrumental Composer

    • CHAPTER 7 ‘From “Merry-Eye” to Paradise’: The Early Orchestral Music of Herbert Howells
      (pp. 118-138)
      Lewis Foreman

      Many years ago, in the 1960s, when even Howells’s chamber music was little known, the present author attended a rehearsal of the Piano Quartet (HH 66), which bears the dedication ‘To the Hill at Chosen and to Ivor Gurney who knows it’. The music was unfamiliar to the performers, and the pianist read this dedication out to his colleagues and they all smirked in a condescending way before going on to play the music quite beautifully. Certainly there was a time when such an association by a composer would not be treated seriously, yet landscape had a profound impression on...

    • CHAPTER 8 Lost, Remembered, Mislaid, Rewritten: A Documentary Study of In Gloucestershire
      (pp. 139-152)
      Paul Andrews

      Howells composed three essays for string quartet, all of them begun and two of them signed off early in his career. The first was the student piece Lady Audrey’s Suite of 1915 (HH 50), then came Fantasy String Quartet of 1917 (HH 71), and lastly In Gloucestershire, posthumously published as String Quartet no. 3 in 1992 (HH 62). Together with the Piano Quartet (HH 66), Rhapsodic Quintet for clarinet and strings (HH 107), four sonatas for violin and piano, the postwar sonatas for oboe and clarinet, and a number of smaller pieces for various combinations, they make up Howells’s entire...

    • CHAPTER 9 Style and Structure in the Oboe Sonata and Clarinet Sonata
      (pp. 153-168)
      Fabian Huss

      The Oboe Sonata (HH 239 – 1942) and Clarinet Sonata (HH 251– 1946) are the only substantial chamber works dating from Howells’s later period, providing an opportunity to observe his mature musical language from an alternative perspective to that presented by the choral and orchestral works. The extended forms and limited textural range facilitate an examination of elements such as thematic working, harmonic procedures at all hierarchical levels and their articulation of structural relationships, as well as the aesthetic priorities they imply. The latter will be contextualised further through a consideration of wider trends in British music and culture, drawing on...

  13. PART IV Howells the Modern

    • CHAPTER 10 ‘Tunes all the way’? Romantic Modernism and the Piano Concertos of Herbert Howells
      (pp. 170-184)
      Jonathan Clinch

      The release in May 2000 of not one but two piano concertos by Herbert Howells was hailed as ‘an astonishing revelation’.¹ Both technically advanced and well crafted, Howells’s piano concertos make a significant contribution to British music at the start of the twentieth century and, although discarded by the composer, demand a central position in any reassessment of Howells. For the scholar of British music, these are major artistic statements that function as significant commentaries on their period; and as an increasing number of publications emerge critiquing the ways in which British composers adapted and reacted to Continental Modernism, Howells,...

    • CHAPTER 11 ‘I am a “modern” in this, but a Britisher too’: Howells and the Phantasy
      (pp. 185-221)
      David Maw

      British chamber music during the first half of the twentieth century was convulsed with a ‘phantasy mania’.¹ The competition for ‘phantasies’ inaugurated by W. W. Cobbett in 1905 was enthusiastically received and became the first of a series that continued under differing aegises through the next four decades.² The genre that it spawned was also taken up outside this context, both through Cobbett’s own commissioning and through the independent interest of composers beyond his sphere. In a short period of time, the genre had established itself; yet it did not long survive Cobbett’s death in 1937 and had all but...

    • CHAPTER 12 Austerity, Difficulty and Retrospection: The Late Style of Herbert Howells
      (pp. 222-238)
      Phillip A. Cooke

      Herbert Howells’s setting of the Stabat mater (HH 309) of 1965 is rightly held up as his masterpiece, the culmination of all that he had been striving for in his compositional career, a work that not only defined his mature musical language but also represented a composer at the height of his artistic powers, comfortable with his highly wrought and idiosyncratic idiom. It was a piece that would cast a shadow on all Howells’s work both during and after its composition, and its place is as important in the composer’s oeuvre as the early chamber music successes or the triumph...

  14. PART V Howells in Mourning

    • CHAPTER 13 In modo elegiaco: Howells and the Sarabande
      (pp. 240-273)
      Graham Barber

      There is a characteristic rhythm that occurs persistently throughout Howells’s works. In slow, triple metre, it emanates from his apparent obsession with the sarabande¹ and appears to be associated with elegiac thoughts, both personal and religious. It almost always appears in conjunction with intense, chromatic harmony. What are the origins and characteristics of this manner and mood? Why does Howells keep returning to the sarabande as a vehicle for expression, especially when in melancholy spirits? What is the relationship between instrumental and sung sarabande? And what other, subliminal effects does this modus operandi have on his music? These are the...

    • CHAPTER 14 On Hermeneutics in Howells: Some Thoughts on Interpreting His Cello Concerto
      (pp. 274-284)
      Jonathan Clinch

      Herbert Howells was notorious for revisiting works, revising and restructuring – from chamber works like the Third String Quartet, In Gloucestershire (HH 62, which exists in at least three versions: see Chapter 8) to the substantial reworking of the Requiem (HH 188) to form Hymnus paradisi (HH 220), it seems that Howells was rarely satisfied. However, one work stands apart in personal significance – his Cello Concerto (HH 205–7). Starting it in 1933, Howells worked on it throughout his life, even revisiting it close to his death. It was clearly an important work for him, and on more than one occasion...

    • CHAPTER 15 Musical Cenotaph: Howells’s Hymnus paradisi and Sites of Mourning
      (pp. 285-308)
      Byron Adams

      An horrible story: one that causes sickening knots of dread to tighten in the pit of any loving parent’s stomach. The events unfold simply, inexorably, as if the chill hand of the Erlkönig guided the tragedy. A family is on holiday in Gloucestershire when the youngest child, a bright, resolute, and charming little boy, falls ill. A local doctor is summoned, makes an accurate diagnosis and urges the family to return to London as quickly as possible. On the ride to the train station and on the train hurtling through the darkening countryside, the gasping child, held by his powerless...

  15. APPENDIX: Catalogue of the Works of Herbert Howells
    (pp. 309-346)
    Paul Andrews
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 347-352)
  17. Index of Works
    (pp. 353-355)
    Herbert Howells
  18. General Index
    (pp. 356-360)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)