Howells, Herbert (Norman)

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Howells, Herbert (Norman)

Howells, Herbert (Norman), eminent English composer and teacher; b. Lydney, Gloucestershire, Oct. 17, 1892; d. Oxford, Feb. 23, 1983. He received training in composition from Herbert Brewer, the organist at Gloucester Cathedral. In 1912 he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Coll. of Music in London, where he was a student of Stanford, Parratt, Charles Wood, and Parry. In 1917 he became sub-organist at Salisbury Cathedral. In 1920 he became a teacher of composition at the Royal Coll. of Music. He also taught at St. Paul’s Girls’ School (1932–62), was acting organist of St. John’s Coll., Cambridge (1941–45), and the King Edward VII Prof, of Music at the Univ. of London (1950–64). In 1953 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 1972 a Companion of Honour. While the influence of Vaughan Williams may be found in How-ells’s oeuvre, he developed his own voice in which church modes and the pentatonic scale predominate. Several of his orch. and chamber works display an extraordinary craftsmanship, and his organ music has acquired repertoire status. Particularly notable among his orch. works are the Fantasia for Cello and Orch. (1936) and the Concerto for Strings (1938). However, it is as a composer of vocal music, and most notably of choral music, that Howells has made his most significant contribution to the music of the 20th century. The death of his young son Michael in 1935 was a defining event of Howells’s life. His Requiem (1936), which he did not allow to be published until 1980, served as an expression of his heartfelt loss. A major portion of it was utilized in Howells’s greatest work, the Hymnus Paradisi for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1938), at once personal and universal in its coming to terms with the transitory nature of life. It was first performed under the composer’s direction at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester on Sept. 7, 1950. This masterwork was followed by two more choral works of major stature, the expansive and challenging Missa SabrinensisThe Severn Mass (1954) and the finely wrought Stabat Mater (1963). In 1987 the Herbert Howells Soc. was founded.


ORCH.: 2 piano concertos: No. 1 (1913; London, July 10, 1914) and No. 2 (1924); The B’s, suite (1914; Bournemouth, Feb. 13, 1919); 3 Dances for Violin and Orch. (1914–15); Puck’s Minuet (1917); Merry Eye (London, Sept. 30, 1920); Procession (1922; orch. of a piano piece, 1920); Pastoral Rhapsody (Eastbourne Festival, Nov. 1923, composer conducting; rev. version, Bournemouth, March 1924, composer conducting); Paradise Rondel (Gloucester, July 25, 1925); Pageantry, suite for Brass Band (1934); untitled piece for Cello and Orch. (1935; orch. by C. Palmer as Threnody for Cello and Orch. and 1st perf. in London, Nov. 1992); Fantasia for Cello and Orch. (1937; London, Jan. 16, 1982); Concerto for Strings (BBC, Dec. 16, 1938); Suite for Strings (1942); Music for a Prince (1948; London, Jan. 23, 1949; based on 2 pieces from The B’s, suite, 1914); Triptych for Brass Band (1960). CHAMBER: Piano Quartet (1916); Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (1917); 3 string quartets (c. 1916-35); 3 violin sonatas (1918, 1918, 1923); Oboe Sonata (1942; Cheltenham, July 9, 1984); Clarinet Sonata (1946).keyboard: piano:Polka for 2 Pianos (1951); Sonatina (1971).organ: 2 sonatas (1911, 1933); 3 Psalm Preludes (2 sets, 1915, 1938-39); 4 Rhapsodies (Nos. 1-3, 1915-18, No. 4, 1958); 6 Pieces (1940–45); Siciliano for a High Ceremony (1952; Edinburgh, Jan. 10, 1953); Prelude De Profundis (1958); 2 Pieces (1959); Partita (1971; London, Feb. 23, 1972). clavichord:Lambert’s Clavichord, 12 pieces (1926–27); Howells’ Clavichord, 20 pieces (1941–61).VOCAL: Mass in the Dorian Mode for Chorus (1912); Sine Nomine: A Phantasy for Soprano, Tenor, Chorus, and Orch. (1922); A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1933; London, Sept. 10, 1953); Requiem for Chorus (1936); Hymnus Paradisi for Soprano, Tenor, Chorus, and Orch. (1938; Gloucester, Sept. 7, 1950, composer conducting); several Te Deum settings for Chorus (1944 et seq.); King of Glory, motet for Chorus and Organ (Holborn, Nov. 22, 1949); God Is Gone Up, motet for Chorus and Organ (Cornhill, June 14, 1950); A Maid Peerless for Women’s Chorus and Orch. (1951); Behold, O God, Our Defender for Chorus and Orch. for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1952; London, June 2, 1953); The House of the Mind, motet for Chorus and Organ (1954; Holborn, Jan. 2, 1955); Missa SabrinensisThe Severn Mass for Soprano, Tenor, Alto, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (Worcester, Sept. 7, 1954); An English Mass for Chorus and Orch. (1955; Cornhill, June 4, 1956); A Sequence for St. Michael for Chorus and Organ (1961; Cambridge, March 1962); Stabat Mater for Tenor, Chorus, and Orch. (1963; London, Nov. 22, 1965); Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, motet on the death of President John F. Kennedy for Chorus (1964); The Coventry Mass for Chorus and Organ (1968; Coventry, Oct. 5, 1969); various other sacred and secular choral works; 3 carol-anthems (1918–20), including the famous A Spotless Rose (1919); numerous songs, including King David (1921).


R. Spearing, H H: A Tribute to H. H. on His Eightieth Birthday (London, 1972); C Palmer, H H: A Study (London, 1978); idem, H H: A Centenary Celebration (London, 1993); P. Spicer, H H (Brigend, Wales, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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