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Pierre Lauwers

Herbert Howells

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polite Anglican answer

 

(Quote)

 

Is that Understatment or british humor? It may be I'm a provincial here in the

middle-of-nowhere southern Belgium, but I feel Howell's music as rooted

in a tragical life. And I prefer to compare it to Tournemire's.

 

Liverpool Cathedral would be fine, Hereford too or W....Euh, somewhere

in western England, where I actually discovered this music played on a

somewhat strange organ. But these are the ones I have heard live, of course

there are surely others.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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polite Anglican answer

 

(Quote)

 

Is that Understatment or british humor? It may be I'm a provincial here in the

middle-of-nowhere southern Belgium, but I feel Howell's music as rooted

in a tragical life.

 

===========

 

 

Rooted say you?

 

I've been searching for years.

 

MM

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polite Anglican answer

 

(Quote)

Is that Understatment or british humor? It may be I'm a provincial here in the

middle-of-nowhere southern Belgium, but I feel Howell's music as rooted

in a tragical life. And I prefer to compare it to Tournemire's.

 

Liverpool Cathedral would be fine, Hereford too or W....Euh, somewhere

in western England, where I actually discovered this music played on a

somewhat strange organ. But these are the ones I have heard live, of course

there are surely others.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

So, where was the organ in the west of England?!

 

I must agree with you, M. Lauwers. Howells did have a somewhat tragic life. In addition, whilst I think that his choral music is generally superb, I have usually avoided playing his organ compositions in recitals. I think that primarily, this is because I view it as 'mood' music. Since many of his published compositions sound like improvisations, following a similar format (I am thinking of the Psalm-Preludes, rather than the Sonata) they are excellent to open or close evensong, but I have found that they are generally less well-received as items in a recital.

 

It is true that the Six Pieces are more suitable and that at least two of the rhapsodies would be suitable for a recital. However, to me, there seems to be some indefinable element missing - sorry, I am not explaining this well.

 

I do understand that he deputised at St. John's, Cambridge during WWII and that apparently he improvised virtually every voluntary. Whether or not they all sounded similar, I do not know.

 

Do not think, by this, that I am berating his music - I rate Howells as one of the finest British composers of the 20th Century. I just find that, for me, much of his organ music sits uncomfortably between two stools.

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Well, this is the same for Tournemire, and even, to a somewhat lesser

degree, for Messiaen; their music is made for something like

"Concerts spirituels".

Not only is Howell's music deeply rooted in Faith, like Tournemire's and Messiaen's, which are prayers, but it was written for organs that were done for the accompaniment above anything else.

So of course it's "mood music". Above all, it belongs to Cathedrals (or big churches) not to the concert-room, as someone else already said.

 

There are older precedents. Take, for instance, Nicolas de Grigny. Just another

deep-minded, introverted man who wrote jewels for big (for the period) Cathedral's organs in generous acoustics.

 

But this is genuine organ music!

As an organ lover I prefer this kind of composers among all others.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Well, this is the same for Tournemire, and even, to a somewhat lesser

degree, for Messiaen; their music is made for something like

"Concerts spirituels".

Not only is Howell's music deeply rooted in Faith, like Tournemire's and Messiaen's, which are prayers, but it was written for organs that were done for the accompaniment above anything else.

So of course it's "mood music". Above all, it belongs to Cathedrals (or big churches) not to the concert-room, as someone else already said.

 

....But this is genuine organ music!

As an organ lover I prefer this kind of composers among all others.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

I agree, up to a point. I would, however, hestiate to agree that the music of Howells is 'deeply rooted in Faith' - certainly a former Titulaire of Birmingham Cathedral took me to task some years ago for making the same statement! On reflection, I can see his point. The music of Howells was undoubtedly linked to particular buildings, their acoustic ambience and their organs. However, whilst his music (particularly the choral music) is often uplifting in effect, I do wonder whether this is as a result of any personal faith (in God) which Howells may have had, or whether it is a more emotional - possibly 'spiritual' response. Certainly, Howells endured his share of sadness and personal tragedy - not just the loss of his son Michael, at the age of nine (I visited his grave a couple of summers ago) - but also personal illness. (Howells was, I believe, for a short time, Assistant Organist of Salisbury Cathedral. During this time, he fell gravely ill and was not expected to recover. Fortunately, he was spared.)

 

I would be interested to read any views or recollections which Paul Derrett might wish to share.

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I agree, up to a point. I would, however, hestiate to agree that the music of Howells is 'deeply rooted in Faith' - certainly a former Titulaire of Birmingham Cathedral took me to task some years ago for making the same statement! On reflection, I can see his point. The music of Howells was undoubtedly linked to particular buildings, their acoustic ambience and their organs. However, whilst his music (particularly the choral music) is often uplifting in effect, I do wonder whether this is as a result of any personal faith (in God) which Howells may have had, or whether it is a more emotional - possibly 'spiritual' response. Certainly, Howells endured his share of sadness and personal tragedy - not just the loss of his son Michael, at the age of nine (I visited his grave a couple of summers ago) - but also personal illness. (Howells was, I believe, for a short time, Assistant Organist of Salisbury Cathedral. During this time, he fell gravely ill and was not expected to recover. Fortunately, he was spared.)

 

I would be interested to read any views or recollections which Paul Derrett might wish to share.

 

There are a few things that I would like to add about this topic, if I may. I was fortunate enough to be a student of HH in his very last years as a teacher at the RCM. Everything you say in the paragraph above was borne out by remarks he made to me; he particuarly loved the language of the BCP and the bible (AV of course), he loved cathedrals and places like King's and Gloucester especially and he relished the opportunity to write for them, but like many composers (Britten, Tippett...) he didn't really claim to have a belief in God in the Christian sense, just a sense of spirituality.

 

In terms of ideal organs I have long been unconvinced by some of his music on big organs in large acoustics because of the lack of clarity in the musical textures. I think of, for example, the Paean (from 6 pieces) which almost always sounds a jumble ... there is a central section where I have struggled to make the individual melodic lines clear, for example. But there are organs, which are definitely not what one would call a classic Howells organ in that dreamy, romantic, aetherial sense anyway, where the individual lines can easily be be clearer. I was able to watch him composing (and playing the piano) and he was certainly then thinking in contrapuntal lines. I did wonder how much he really thought of the sound of an organ in practical, playing terms ... his keyboard style from, say, Lambert's Clavichord seemed to have merged into his organ writing. So maybe a big romantic organ for every one of his organ pieces may be a bit of a red herring, where the music often sounds just rather waffling.

 

Also, as a matter of interest, I find that when I'm invited to play abroad I am often asked to play 'English' music, and I learned very quickly that they didn't mean Byrd, Redford or Purcell! One of Howells pieces, Master Tallis Testament, works very well indeed on many different kinds of instruments (I recently played it in Dresden on the large recently restored Jehmlich organ in the Kreuzkirche, as well as in the past at the Bavokerk in Haarlem and in Weingarten Abbey). Of course all three organs are very good indeed and are in wonderfully resonant acoustics, but it was also fun to make the organs sound as appropriately 'English' as possible and interesting to hear how clear the music was, so that I could evoke the sound world of an English cathedral but also play music that sounds like it has line and structure.

 

That's all...

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I really enjoyed reading your post, Mr. Lucas - thank you!

 

Ironically (with regard to the low esteem with which some members hold the Gloucester organ) the music of Howells may sound more clear on the present instrument in Gloucester Cathedral.

 

No - before people rush hot-foot to their computer keyboards to send off a stinging rebuke - (and get out little dolls and a box of pins) - I did not state that it would necessarily produce the expected timbres - just that it was likely to be less muddled! :P

 

By the way - any further news on the proposed additions to the H&H organ of St. Alban's Abbey?

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I really enjoyed reading your post, Mr. Lucas - thank you!

 

Ironically (with regard to the low esteem with which some members hold the Gloucester organ) the music of Howells may sound more clear on the present instrument in Gloucester Cathedral.

 

No - before you reply and get out little dolls and a box of pins - I did not state that it would necessarily produce the expected timbres - just that it was likely to be less muddled! :P

 

By the way - any news on the proposed additions to the H&H organ of St. Alban's Abbey, yet?

 

You're too kind!

 

I know what you mean about Gloucester in both senses - the music (lines/textures) would sound clear but perhaps some of the timbres might be a bit ... er ... thinnner. I understand that he liked the dark textures from the organ sound - the challenge I enjoy is getting dark sounds and clarity when it's needed. (I was trying to avoid saying it, but it's another lesson I've learned from the organ here in St A's where we can do dark and thick, but clear, if that doesn't seem to be a total contradiction).

 

I hope you don't mind me not answering the last question. Perhaps when all the approvals have been given, the money found and the contract has been signed ... the trouble is, as with all things like this, nothing has been finalised so there's no point in giving detail. But there won't be any surprises!

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Not at all - I quite understand!

 

A few years ago, I did spend some time trying (in vain) to make my 'own' church instrument sound like a vintage Harrison! Now, I just try to make it sound like N.-D. (1970s vintage) - but without the 32p!

 

By the way, may I please trouble you to pass on my regards to Rev. Stephen Lake? - I think that he is your Sub-Dean. I was his organist (with a colleague as choirmaster) at his previous church for a few years. I have, unfortunately, lost touch with him! Thank you!

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By the way, may I please trouble you to pass on my regards to Rev. Stephen Lake? - I think that he is your Sub-Dean. I was his organist (with a colleague as choirmaster) at his previous church for a few years. I have, unfortunately, lost touch with him! Thank you!

 

 

I think you mean the Acting Dean of Antigua!

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Ha! Hope he has a hat....

 

Oh well - there go my chances of an introduction in order for me to petition you to allow me to play the wonderful instrument in your cathedral.... :P

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Ha! Hope he has a hat....

 

Oh well - there go my chances of an introduction in order for me to petition you to allow me to play the wonderful instrument in your cathedral.... :P

 

He's back next term, allegedly.

 

You don't need an introduction ... we aren't snooty here!

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He's back next term, allegedly.

 

You don't need an introduction ... we aren't snooty here!

 

Really - that would be wonderful! May I contact you regarding this matter at your convenience, please?

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his keyboard style from, say, Lambert's Clavichord seemed to have merged into his organ writing

(Quote)

 

This is very interesting. Thanks for your contribution, Mr Lucas.

Pairing dark tones with clarity is nothing extraordinary. It was indeed

the aim of many a romantic builder.

And as I said on the french forum about Reger's music, playing music such as

Reger's or Howells on high-pitched mixtures is like putting "!!!!!!!" everywhere;

the meaning of the music changes.

Now HH certainly did play a number of organs, some of which could already

tend towards Reform.

Does anybody know what he did think about this movement he must have known

the beginnings of?

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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his keyboard style from, say, Lambert's Clavichord seemed to have merged into his organ writing

(Quote)

 

This is very interesting. Thanks for your contribution, Mr Lucas.

Pairing dark tones with clarity is nothing extraordinary. It was indeed

the aim of many a romantic builder.

And as I said on the french forum about Reger's music, playing music such as

Reger's or Howells on high-pitched mixtures is like putting "!!!!!!!" everywhere;

the meaning of the music changes.

Now HH certainly did play a number of organs, some of which could already

tend towards Reform.

Does anybody know what he did think about this movement he must have known

the beginnings of?

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

Not sure about two things there - 1) did he play the organ after about 1916 when he was 'retired' from Salisbury due to ill health and 2) I'm not sure that he really noticed the organ reform movement that much? (I don't think he liked the RFH organ very much, but that's hardly a surprise. He wrote the Partita for a first performance there but it's not his best music, nor does it look like it was written with that kind of organ in mind)

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Not sure about two things there - 1) did he play the organ after about 1916 when he was 'retired' from Salisbury due to ill health and 2) I'm not sure that he really noticed the organ reform movement that much? (I don't think he liked the RFH organ very much, but that's hardly a surprise. He wrote the Partita for a first performance there but it's not his best music, nor does it look like it was written with that kind of organ in mind)

 

 

Well, only, as far as I know, at St. John's College, Cambridge, where, for a time during WWII he was Acting Organist. I would be interested to read of anyone knowing whether or not he played anywhere else.

 

No - if he did not like the Goucester organ as re-designed by RD, I doubt that he liked the RFH H&H/Downes either!

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Well, only, as far as I know, at St. John's College, Cambridge, where, for a time during WWII he was Acting Organist. I would be interested to read of anyone knowing whether or not he played anywhere else.

 

No - if he did not like the Goucester organ as re-designed by RD, I doubt that he liked the RFH H&H/Downes either!

 

I'd forgotten about St John's where he said that he was complemented by someone on the piece of music he played as a voluntary, but that he had only improvised it.

 

(I think his views on organs in general mirrored his attachment to the BCP and the AV)

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I'd forgotten about St John's where he said that he was complemented by someone on the piece of music he played as a voluntary, but that he had only  improvised it.

 

(I think his views on organs in general mirrored his attachment to the BCP and the AV)

 

Apparently he improvised virtually all of his voluntaries whilst at St. John's - dare I wonder if they all sounded similar?

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Apologies for my ignorance, may I know what BCP and AV mean?

 

Thanks!

Pierre

 

The Church of England's old standard texts: The services from the Book of Common Prayer (1662) and the (King James) Authorised Version of the Bible (1611?).

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I've just completed a week's playing for a visiting choir in Gloucester Cathedral. Regular correspondents will know its not my favourite instrument, but its always a priviledge to play in such a great building and wonderfully atmospheric acoustic.

 

I included both Master Tallis' Testament and the Siciliano for a High Ceremony during the course of the week. The former probably worked better than the latter. The main problem with these pieces at Gloucester is the lack of variety of soft 8' tone, its all flutes really. For this style of music, and also for accompanying Stanford, Sumsion, Bairstow, etc., the lack of an 8' diapason on the swell is quite telling. This, I would think, is one of the main reasons why the organ can, and does, sound "thin". Personally I'd happily lose the swell Vox Humana if an 8' diapason could fit in its place.

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