|Born||17 October 1892|
|Died||23 February 1983 90) (aged|
|Occupation||Composer, organist, music teacher|
|Spouse(s)||Dorothy Dawe (1891–1975)|
|Children||2, including Ursula Howells|
Herbert Norman Howells(17 October 1892 – 23 February 1983) was an English composer, organist, and teacher, most famous for his large output of Anglican church music.
Howells was born in Lydney, Gloucestershire, the youngest of the six children of Oliver Howells, a plumber, painter, decorator and builder, and his wife Elizabeth.His father played the organ at the local Baptist church, and Herbert himself showed early musical promise, first deputising for his father, and then moving at the age of eleven to the local Church of England parish church as choirboy and unofficial deputy organist.
The Howells family’s risky financial situation came to a head when Oliver filed for bankruptcy in September 1904, when Herbert was nearly 12.This was a deep humiliation in a small community at the time and one from which Howells never fully recovered. Financially assisted by a member of the family of Charles Bathurst, 1st Viscount Bledisloe who had taken an interest in the budding musician, Howells began music lessons in 1905 with Herbert Brewer, the organist of Gloucester Cathedral, and at sixteen became his articled pupil at the Cathedral alongside Ivor Novello and Ivor Gurney. The latter became a close friend, the pair going on long walks through the Gloucestershire countryside discussing their shared love of music and English literature.
Another formative experience for the young Howells was the premiere in September 1910 at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis . Howells liked to relate in after years how Vaughan Williams sat next to him for the remainder of the concert and shared his score of Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius with the awestruck aspiring composer.Both Vaughan Williams and the Tudor composers (including Tallis) profoundly influenced Howells' later work.
In 1912, following the example of Ivor Gurney,Howells moved to London to study at the Royal College of Music, where his teachers included Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry and Charles Wood. Among Howells' contemporaries in the student body were Gurney, Arthur Bliss and Arthur Benjamin.
Howells blossomed in what he considered the "cosy family" atmosphere of the College,and his Mass in the Dorian Mode was performed at Westminster Cathedral under R.R. Terry within weeks of his arrival. For the most part, however, his music at this time was orchestral; works included a piano concerto, withdrawn after its first performance, a light orchestral suite, The B's, portraying three of his friends at the college (Arthur Bliss, Arthur Benjamin, and Francis Purcell "Bunny" Warren), and the Three Dances for violin and orchestra. More typical of the works with which Howells was later to be associated were his earliest important compositions for organ, the first set of Psalm Preludes (1915–16) and the first of the op. 17 Rhapsodies.
Howells' promise seemed likely to be cut short in 1915 when he was diagnosed with Graves' disease and given six months to live. His poor health prevented him from being conscripted in World War I, arguably preserving him from the worse fate awaiting Gurney and others of his friends and contemporaries. At St Thomas' Hospital he was given the previously untried treatment of radium injections in the neck, administered twice a week over a period of two years.For much of this time Howells travelled between London for treatment and Lydney where he was nursed by his mother. He was nonetheless still able to compose and in 1916 produced the first work of his maturity. The Piano Quartet in A minor, dedicated to "the hill at Chosen and Ivor Gurney who knows it" was in the following year one of the first works published under the auspices of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust. In the following year Howells became assistant organist at Salisbury Cathedral, but only held the post for a few months, finding the repeated journeys to London for treatment too difficult. Friends then arranged for a grant from the Carnegie Trust, which paid for Howells to assist R.R. Terry in editing the Latin Tudor repertoire that Terry and his choir were reviving at Westminster Cathedral. The work was to lead to a multi-volume edition of Tudor Church Music by OUP in the 1920s. It provided Howells with a comfortable income and enabled him to absorb the English Renaissance style which he loved and would evoke in his own music. His first significant works for choir, the Three Carol-Anthems (Here is the Little Door, A Spotless Rose and Sing Lullaby) were written around this time.
In 1920 Howells married Dorothy Dawe (1891–1975),a singer whom he had met in 1911 when deputising as her accompanist. The marriage endured despite Howells' frequent infidelities, and produced two children, Ursula (1922–2005), later an actress, and Michael (1926–1935).
In the same year he joined the staff of the Royal College of Music, where he was to remain until 1979.Among his pupils were Robert Simpson, Gordon Jacob, James Bernard, Paul Spicer, Madeleine Dring, and Imogen Holst. The post at the RCM, which from 1925 he combined with the position of Director of Music at St Paul's Girls' School, and frequent work as a competition adjudicator, was to reduce the amount of time he could devote to composition; but he continued to write orchestral and chamber music, including the string quartet In Gloucestershire (originally written 1916, but rewritten in whole or in part several times and not reaching its final form until the 1930s), the overture Merry Eye (1920) and the second Piano Concerto (1925). The first performance of the last named work occasioned a demonstration in the concert hall from a hostile critic. Howells, always over-sensitive to criticism, withdrew the work and produced few significant compositions for several years. Howells' friend and fellow composer, Martin Sumpter, encouraged this temporary hiatus from composing large scale works. One exception was Lambert's Clavichord (1928), a rare example of a composition by a 20th-century composer for that instrument. It was inspired by a clavichord lent to Howells by his friend Herbert Lambert, an instrument maker and photographer based in Bath. Several other major compositions written around this time, however, remained unperformed, notably an a capella Requiem to English words written in 1932, and a choral work, A Kent Yeoman's Wooing Song, written the following year.
In September 1935 Howells' placid existence as teacher, adjudicator and occasional composer was abruptly shattered when his nine-year-old son Michael contracted polio during a family holiday, dying in London three days later.Michael was buried in the churchyard of St Matthew's Parish Church in Twigworth, Gloucestershire.
Howells was deeply affected and continued to commemorate the event until the end of his life.At the suggestion of his daughter Ursula he sought to channel his grief into music, and over the next three years composed much of the large-scale choral work which was eventually to become Hymnus Paradisi, drawing on material from the still unpublished Requiem of 1932. This remained, in Howells' words, "a personal, almost secret document" until 1950. Other commemorative works written around this time include the Concerto for Strings (written in 1938), the slow movement of which is in joint memory of Michael and Edward Elgar and the unfinished Cello Concerto, on which Howells had been working at the time of the boy's death and which he found himself unable to complete. A Sequence for St Michael and the motet Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing have also been associated with Howells's grief for Michael, as have two of Howells's hymn tunes, the best-known of which is his tune for the hymn "All My Hope on God is Founded" by Robert Bridges ("A Hymn Tune for Charterhouse"), which was renamed Michael for its publication in The Clarendon Hymn Book in 1936. Howells also wrote the tune Twigworth (1968) for the hymn "God is love, let heaven adore him". To a greater or lesser extent, however, much of Howells' subsequent music shows the influence of this loss.
From the late 1930s, Howells turned increasingly to choral and organ music, composing a second series of Psalm Preludes followed by a set of Six Pieces (begun 1939), of which the third, Master Tallis's Testament, a particular favourite of the composer's, recalled his formative experience of Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia.A set of Four Anthems, originally titled In Time of War and including the popular O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and Like as the Hart, followed in early 1941. In August of that year, Howells was invited to serve as acting organist of St John's College, Cambridge, replacing Robin Orr who was away on active service in World War II. Howells' association with Cambridge, which lasted until the end of the war in 1945, was a productive and happy period for him, and led directly to the works for which he is most remembered. He later recalled being challenged by the Dean of King's College, Eric Milner-White, to write a set of canticles for the choir. The result was the Te Deum and Jubilate of the service known as Collegium Regale , performed in 1944, followed the next year by the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and completed in 1956 by the Office of Holy Communion. Collegium Regale, the Gloucester Service (for Gloucester Cathedral, 1946) and the St Paul's Service (for St Paul's Cathedral, 1951) remain the best known and most admired of the many settings of the Anglican liturgy written by Howells for particular choirs and buildings over the next thirty years.
In 1949, the organist Herbert Sumsion asked Howells if he had anything that could be performed at the 1950 Three Choirs Festival to be held at Gloucester. Howells decided to bring out the incomplete choral work he had written in his son Michael's memory between 1936 and 1938. (In later years Howells claimed it was at the urging of Vaughan Williams that the piece was disinterred).The work, retitled Hymnus Paradisi at Sumsion's suggestion, was completed and orchestrated in time for its first performance on 7 September 1950, the day after the 15th anniversary of Michael's death. It was Howells' greatest public and critical success, and for many years was his best known work. Shorter choral works written around this time include the carol-anthem Long long ago (1951), the introit Behold O God our Defender for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and The House of the Mind (1954) for chorus and strings.
Though not an orthodox Christian,Howells was now chiefly identified with the composition of religious music. His follow-up work to the Hymnus Paradisi was an extended setting of the Latin Mass for soloists, chorus and orchestra, named Missa Sabrinensis after the River Severn and first performed in Worcester Cathedral as part of the Three Choirs Festival in 1954. It was considered a disappointment after the success of the earlier work, and its extreme complexity and difficulty has prevented it becoming widely known. The critic Michael Kennedy, however, considers it one of Howells' finest works. Howells followed it with An English Mass (1956), a smaller-scale setting to English words for chorus, strings and organ. His final large-scale choral work was the Stabat Mater , setting a text whose subsidiary theme of a parent mourning a child had obvious personal significance. He began it in 1959 but found it difficult to complete; it was not performed until 1965. The motet Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing, a posthumous tribute to President John F. Kennedy, was written in late spring of 1964. It premiered as part of a 22 November 1964 Canadian tribute to Kennedy at Washington’s National Gallery of Art sung by the Choir of St. George’s Cathedral, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, under the direction of George N. Maybee. Maybee brought the St. George’s choir to England in September 1965, and they performed the piece at King’s College, Cambridge with Howells in attendance. Take Him, Earth is described by Howells' pupil Paul Spicer as "a classic of twentieth century choral music" and "an undoubted masterpiece".
Howells continued to compose until his late 80s, but wrote nothing further on the scale of the Stabat Mater. One of the last works to appear in his lifetime was the Requiem, edited for performance from his manuscripts in 1980 and published the following year, almost fifty years after its composition.He died on 23 February 1983 at the age of 90, in a nursing home in Putney, one day after his good friend Sir Adrian Boult, and his ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey.
Howells was appointed CBE in 1953 and Companion of Honour in 1972. His academic awards included an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge, awarded in 1961.A "Herbert Howells Society", started by his daughter Ursula in 1987, and a "Herbert Howells Trust", founded after her death in 2005, exist to promote his works.
There are several portraits of Howells. A 1974 oil painting by Leonard Boden hangs in the collection of the Royal College of Music,and in the National Portrait Gallery, London there is a chalk sketch by Boden, an oil portrait by Howard James Morgan and photographic portraits by Herbert Lambert, Clive Barda and Elliott & Fry.
Howells composed a range of orchestral, choral and chamber works. He is best known for his sacred choral music, notably his settings of services for Mattins ( Te Deum , Benedictus and Jubilate ) and Choral Evensong ( Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis ), many of which are dedicated to specific places of worship such as Gloucester Cathedral or King's College, Cambridge. He also composed several hymn tunes and a Requiem.
The Three Choirs Festival is a music festival held annually at the end of July, rotating among the cathedrals of the Three Counties and originally featuring their three choirs, which remain central to the week-long programme. The large-scale choral repertoire is now performed by the Festival Chorus, but the festival also features other major ensembles and international soloists. The 2011 festival took place in Worcester from 6 to 13 August. The 2012 festival in Hereford took place earlier than usual, from 21 to 28 July, to avoid clashing with the 2012 Summer Olympics. The event is now established in the last week of July. The 300th anniversary of the original Three Choirs Festival was celebrated during the 2015 festival, which took place from 25 July to 1 August in Hereford.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley was an English organist and composer. Wesley married Mary Anne Merewether and had 6 children.
Sir Stephen John Cleobury was an English organist and music director. He worked with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, where he served as music director from 1982 to 2019, and with the BBC Singers.
Herbert Whitton Sumsion CBE was an English musician who was organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1928 to 1967. Through his leadership role with the Three Choirs Festival, Sumsion maintained close associations with major figures in England's 20th-century musical renaissance, including Edward Elgar, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although Sumsion is known primarily as a cathedral musician, his professional career spanned more than 60 years and encompassed composing, conducting, performing, accompanying, and teaching. His compositions include works for choir and organ, as well as lesser-known chamber and orchestral works.
David John Briggs is an English organist and composer. He started his career as a cathedral organist as Assistant Organist in Hereford Cathedral before becoming the organist of Truro and Gloucester Cathedrals. Heavily influenced by Jean Langlais and Pierre Cochereau, Briggs is regarded as one of the world's finest improvisors, and now works as a concert organist. Briggs is a composer of choral and organ music, and has also transcribed many orchestral works into versions for solo organ, as well as many of Cochereau's recorded improvisations.
Sir Alfred Herbert Brewer was an English composer and organist. As organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1896 until his death, he contributed a good deal to the Three Choirs Festival for 30 years.
Malcolm Archer is an English composer, conductor and organist. He combines this work with a recital career. Archer was formerly Organist and Director of Music at Wells and St Paul's Cathedrals and Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. He married Alison in 1994, and they have a son (b.1997) and a daughter. (b.1999)
Hymnus Paradisi is a choral work by Herbert Howells for soprano and tenor soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra. The work was inspired in part by the death from polio of his son Michael in 1935. Howells wrote the work from 1936 to 1938, drawing on material from the then-unpublished Requiem of 1932, but then retained the music privately, without public performance. Howells maintained later in life that Ralph Vaughan Williams convinced him to allow the work to be performed publicly at the Three Choirs Festival. However, his former pupil and biographer Paul Spicer contends that Howells first showed the music to Herbert Sumsion, organist of Gloucester Cathedral, who in turn showed it to Gerald Finzi, and that only after these two expressed their enthusiasm did Howells show the music to Vaughan Williams. The title 'Hymnus Paradisi' was suggested by Sumsion. The work received its successful premiere at the Festival in 1950. The score was published in 1951.
Andrew Nethsingha, FRCO, ARCM is an English choral conductor and organist, the son of Lucian Nethsingha also a cathedral organist. He is the Director of Music at St John's College, Cambridge, where he was previously the Organ Scholar. He was also the President of the Cathedral Organists' Association. He has performed in the UK, North America, South Africa, China and many European countries.
Saint Peter's Singers (SPS) is a chamber choir associated with Leeds Minster, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England that celebrated during the Season 2017/2018 the fortieth anniversary of the choir's formation by Harry Fearnley in 1977. An anniversary concert took place at Leeds Minster on Sunday 25 June 2017 with the National Festival Orchestra and soloists Kristina James, Joanna Gamble, Paul Dutton and Quentin Brown. Further anniversary year events included Bach Cantatas and Music for Christmas at Fulneck Church in August and December respectively, Handel Coronation Anthems at Holy Trinity, Boar Lane as part of the Leeds Handel Festival in September and a tour of East Anglia in October. In November at Leeds Town Hall, the Singers participated in Herbert Howells's masterpiece Hymnus Paradisi with Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and Leeds College of Music Chorale under the direction of Dr David Hill with the Orchestra of Opera North. 2018 began with a concert of Sacred Choral Masterworks at Leeds Town Hall in February and Bach's Mass in B minor at Leeds Minster on Good Friday 2018 in memory of long-serving member Jan Holdstock. The final concert of the current season takes place at Leeds Minster on Sunday 24 June at Leeds Minster at 5.30. At this event will be presented the first performance of a new work from composer Philip Moore commissioned for the Singers' 40th anniversary – the motet Tu es Petrus – along with music by E W Naylor, Arvo Part, Sir Hubert Parry, Judith Bingham and Maurice Durufle. Simon Lindley conducts and the organist is David Houlder.
William Hayes was an English composer, organist, singer and conductor.
The Bach Choir is a large independent musical organisation founded in London, England in 1876 to give the first performance of J. S. Bach's Mass in B minor in Britain.
Paul Spicer is an English composer, conductor, and organist. He taught choral conducting at the Royal College of Music and conducted the RCM Chamber Choir between 1995 and 2008. He currently teaches conducting at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and conducts their chamber choir which records for Somm Records. He also teaches at Oxford and Durham universities. Since 2004 he has been the conductor of the Petersfield Festival. He was Senior Producer for BBC Radio 3 for the Midlands Region based in Birmingham between 1984 and 1990 after which he moved to be Artistic Director of the Lichfield Festival. He also produced for various record companies over many years. He founded the Finzi Singers in 1984 making many recordings for Chandos Records. He conducts the Birmingham Bach Choir and the Whitehall Choir in London. His compositions include two oratorios for Easter and for Advent with libretti by the Dr Tom Wright and a choral symphony 'Unfinished Remembering' (2014) to a libretto by Euan Tait commemorating the outbreak of World War 1. He runs a series of choral courses under the banner of The English Choral Experience based mainly at Abbey Dore in Herefordshire.
The Reger-Chor is a German-Belgian choir. It was founded in Wiesbaden in 1985 and has been conducted by Gabriel Dessauer in Wiesbaden. Since 2001 it has grown to Regerchor-International in a collaboration with the organist Ignace Michiels of the St. Salvator's Cathedral of Bruges. The choir performs an annual concert both in Germany and Belgium of mostly sacred choral music for choir and organ. Concerts have taken place regularly in St. Bonifatius, Wiesbaden, and in the cathedral of Bruges in its series "Kathedraalconcerten". The choir performed additional concerts at other churches of the two countries and in the Concertgebouw of Bruges.
Adrian Frederick Partington is an English conductor, chorus master, organist and pianist. He is director of music at Gloucester Cathedral, joint conductor of the Three Choirs Festival and artistic director for the Gloucester festival years, director of the BBC National Chorus of Wales, conductor of Gloucester Choral Society, and former conductor of Bristol Choral Society and leader of the postgraduate choral conducting course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.
A Boy Was Born, Op. 3, is a choral composition by Benjamin Britten. Subtitled Choral variations for men's, women's and boys' voices, unaccompanied , it was originally composed from 1932 to 1933. It was first performed on 23 February 1934 as a BBC broadcast. Britten revised the work in 1955. The composer set different texts related to Christmas to music as theme and variations, scored for an a cappella choir with boys' voices.
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for St Paul's Cathedral, also known as the St Paul's Service, is a setting by the English composer Herbert Howells of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for the Anglican service of Evening Prayer. Scored for four-part choir and organ, it was written in 1950 for St Paul's Cathedral in London.
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for Gloucester Cathedral, also known as the Gloucester Service, is a setting by the English composer Herbert Howells of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for the Anglican service of Evening Prayer. Scored for four-part choir and organ, it was written in 1946 for Gloucester Cathedral. It was published by Novello in 1947.
In Exile is a motet by Herbert Sumsion, who was for decades organist at Gloucester Cathedral. He set in 1981 a biblical text from Psalm 137 in English, beginning "By the waters of Babylon", scored for double choir a cappella. The motet was published by Basil Ramsey.
Collegium Regale is a collection of choral settings by the English composer Herbert Howells of the canticles for the Anglican services of Mattins, Holy Communion and Evening Prayer. Scored for four-part choir, solo tenor and organ, the pieces were written between 1944 and 1956 "for the King's College, Cambridge". The first of the pieces were first published by Novello in 1947, and they have become a popular piece of music in the Anglican church music repertoire.
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