Tag Archives: herbert howells

Rest in peace, Herbert

Today is the 121st anniversary of the birth of Herbert Howells.  Last year on this day I attended an all-HH Evensong at Gloucester Cathedral.

Today, I am saying a memorial Morning Prayer with intentions for HH, listening solely to his music (including Daniel Bara and East Carolina University’s performance of his Requiem), and reading a chapter of the new HH compendium.

HH is the on-going life-work research subject.  May he rest in peace.


Bristol & St. Mary’s Redcliffe

There’s nothing like a 30-minute each-way walk in the southwest England heat to get the blood going!

I visited this afternoon St. Mary Redcliffe, an old local parish with an incredibly preserved Gothic structure. Herbert Howells wrote music for this parish, so I simply had to visit.

Getting ready to leave, I noticed that Evening Prayers would commence in five minutes, so I joined the lector in the Lady Chapel for a 25-minute prayer service.  My friends and colleagues in the GHTC choir were named aloud, with prayers offered for safe passage, and for peace of heart and mind, as they must surely be tremendously frustrated and tired at this point.

Those of us who are here in Bristol will join for dinner in an hour’s time.  I understand that we’ll be going to Exeter tomorrow to be tourists and sing Evensong no matter what.  The KC contingent is to arrive at Manchester in early morning, but they will be wheezing in to make it by time for Evensong, and then will surely be exhausted as well.

No matter.  All will be well, as God is in heaven, and as my birthday will come ‘round no matter who is here to celebrate and make merry.


Twigworth, in Gloucestershire, is the final resting place of Ivor Gurney and Michael Howells.  Gurney, a life-long friend of Herbert Howells, never was the same after being gassed and shocked in World War I.  His place in English poetry and music, though, is assured.  Michael Howells, son of Herbert, died at age 9 in 1935, leaving his father bereft and limp, and forever changing the course of Howells’ compositional and creative life.

I visited the Twigworth churchyard on Wednesday.


I’m just back from the Barbican Center, where I witnessed tonight a triumphant, energetic, all-out performance of Elgar’s First Symphony.

But first, Cambridge . . . .

Morning Eucharist today, on the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, was appropriately enough in the Nurse’s Chapel, more properly known as the Florence Nightingale Chapel.  I loved the window and the oil lamp.  (Click on that link; the window is the third picture from the left.)

And then I made my way via the Circle Line up to King’s Cross to take the 9.45 a.m. train to Cambridge.  Once I arrived, I spent the next couple of hours at Trinity College and at King’s, in addition to a couple of shops.  Now, I love Cambridge so much.  It’s everything that I envision a British university town to be.  And since it’s the first of those towns I visited, way back in 1995, it’s also idyllic and romanticised in my feeble imagination.  (Like that British spelling?)

The King’s Chapel is the single most beautiful room in the world.  Period.  Nothing comes close to the centuries-old wonder and splendor of the fan vaulting and stained glass in this most amazing place.  My poor pictures cannot do it justice.

A short cab ride took me to the home of Sir David Willcocks and his wife Lady Willcocks (Rachel).  We were joined for luncheon by an old friend of theirs, Elizabeth, who was up from London for the day.  Luncheon itself was truly splendid, and Sir David was in great form with stories and reminiscences.  We later filled an hour and ten minutes talking about his life, and of course about Howells.  I have the whole thing on a memory card.  Let’s just say that when I left their home around 4 p.m., I felt like I’d been on Mount Olympus listening to a god.

Sir David is in his 90’s, but has amazing recall of events and places and people.  Their two dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, long-hair Corgis both, took an instant liking to me.  I missed Samson the Feist terribly all of a sudden.  My thank-you gift to them was a jar of homemade apple butter.  Lady Willcocks indicated this was something new to them; I do hope they enjoy it.  And of course I had Sir David autograph his autobiography for me.

After the 50-minute train ride back to London, I made my way to the hotel, ate a couple of samosas I picked up along the walk from Waterloo Station, took off my tie, and then set out for the Barbican.

This was to be a concert conducted by Sir Colin Davis, but he pulled out of this gig a few days ago.  I instead saw the youngish Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko.  And damn, he was smoking on the podium tonight.  This guy, all 36 years old of him, knows how to handle an orchestra.  I regret that I didn’t get a chance to see Sir Colin at 85, as this was likely my last chance to see him conduct, but I’m glad for the concert tonight!

It’s now 11, and I have another start tomorrow, so the rest must wait.

Sunday evening rumblings and musings

I’m listening this evening to a newish recording of music by Herbert Howells, sung with exquisite refinement by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the direction of  Stephen Layton.  This is awfully good stuff.

[Here is a review on another blog:  *****CD Review • Howells Requiem • Choir of Trinity College Cambridge • Stephen Layton • Few conductors do Howells as well as Mr Layton. He has given himself every opportunity, mind, to produce perfect results: beautiful acoustics in Lincoln and Ely Cathedrals; brilliant choir of male and female undergraduates from Trinity College Cambridge; choice repertoire – how light the divided girls at the beginning of the Gloucester Magnificat and how gloriously the tutti inflates the arching phrase of that item’s main theme. Perfect results he certainly does produce. The St Paul’s Service is as fresh as the Gloucester. The JF Kennedy funeral anthem Take Him Earth for Cherishing is deeply, democratically moving in its unisons which give way to the most finely calculated chords as only Howells writes. The Requiem veers powerfully between the simplicity of its psalm settings and the drama of the opening and closing movements. Speeds throughout the disc have weight and momentum; diction is so good that some aitches come out whistled, so the She hath put down the mighty and God is female for once. The one turn-off is final hymn which sounds too much like Songs of Praise although it does give the sleeve note writer the chance to rehearse the anecdote of Howells composing the tune before he had finished breakfast one morning.]

I seem to be somewhat bi-polar in my listening these days.  I’ll spend days immersing myself in Sibelius, then in Elgar, then in Broadway show tunes, then in solo vocal literature, then in Howells, then in Anglican chant and hymn tunes.  At least I’m consistent – Broadway, Britain, bundled up snowy tunes from Finland . . . .

My diary shows me this evening at a supper club in South City with friends, but I’m just not feeling well.  This ear thing is really troubling.  All the sleeping may be helping, but I’m downright frustrated.

So I’m home tonight, working a bit on emails, running a load of laundry, looking ahead in the diary to a very busy October, prepping for a meeting tomorrow morning with my Provost.  Dinner was some ham salad, some pineapple, and a piece of gooey butter cake (too rich for me, believe it or not, but so tempting).


Heading home

I am in Omaha right now, at the Southwest Airlines gates.  The airline is flying full flights today!  Of course Omaha has been the site this week of the Olympic trials in swimming, and nearly 3000 thespians and conferees are leaving Lincoln today, meaning even more congestion here.

In the midst this week of all the auditions and call-backs and shows and hallway conversations and exhibit hours, I was successful in resetting two choral pieces that will be published this month.  Both The Oxen and Where Angels Sing are now in the hands of my publisher, with new engravings (and in a couple of cases a reconsideration of a pitch).  Having these two pieces finished and off to publication now allows me to think about some other composing this summer, and about resetting a few other pieces for which I never had the original code files of the print engraving.

I still have that Taiwan commission I need to do, and I also wish to compose a piece for one of the Webster University choirs.  I have some early Herbert Howells pieces on their way to me; I’m considering an edition of unison and two-part pieces by Howells.  And I’d love to get my Byrd songs for female chorus published too.

Charlie has been housesitting for me; I have no doubt that Samson the Feist is in good shape.  I’m hopeful that I’ll find my yard and flowers in living condition, though, given the heat of the past few days.

My week commences early on Monday with meetings at the office.  Wednesday is a holiday, of course, and I’m headed to Indiana on Thursday to visit New Harmony on an away-day.

These next two weeks will be my last in the office until early August.  Before I return I will have visited Michigan, Colorado, and Quebec, the former on business, the latter on vacation.  And Colorado on both!

Sometime this summer I also need to clean the basement and paint a bedroom.  And I’m hopeful that I’m changing offices at work, which means a few days of labor there as well, but the reality of this may be not be.

For now, I’m looking forward to my own bed for 14 nights in a row, and to my own kitchen, my dog, my friends, and lovely little home in Saint Louis.

Howells ‘Nunc dimittis’

My life’s work has been in part devoted to the study and understanding of the music of Herbert Howells.

Here is is the Nunc dimittis from his ‘Collegium Regale’ service, as sung by the Choir of Grace Episcopal Cathedral, San Francisco.

This is the very first HH piece I ever sang, back in 1991.  I was smitten then, and still am.