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Pierre Lauwers

Herbert Howells Registration

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As said on another thread, I launch this one to gather

what we still know about Herbert Howells registration practices.

I mean his own, of course, not later variations used by today's players.

 

Dear Howells friends, it is up to you now!

 

Pierre

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Guest Cynic
As said on another thread, I launch this one to gather

what we still know about Herbert Howells registration practices.

I mean his own, of course, not later variations used by today's players.

 

Dear Howells friends, it is up to you now!

 

Pierre

 

I regret that I cannot now find the article which (so far) best covers this subject. I thought it had appeared in a BIOS Journal, but I have searched this morning and have not located it! It was by Relf Clark and concerned exactly this - the application of the information we have to registering Howells' organ music effectively and in keeping with the style of the time. When I read it, I thought it was an excellent piece of work and tallied completely with what I had gleaned from the man himself.

 

I discussed organ music with HH a lot, at the time (1971-4) I believe I was his only composition student who was a first study organist - I also played him cassettes of my own versions of some of his music. Sadly, I never actually got him to a console since I would have loved to have heard him play.

 

Discussions were more about style than registration*. I gathered that he was happy with the standard combinations of the time - H&H's pistons at Gloucester (his favourite organ) included the old Willis Mixtures with 17.19.22 composition. He liked these. Put it this way, he said he greatly preferred them to the 1970s style - 19.22.26.29. we laughed over the fact that his Partita (first performed while I was studying with him) was scheduled to be played on 'the two nastiest organs in London' (his words). NB It was not the Willis character that HH went for, it was the Harrison. He was not fond of Salisbury cathedral organ (as I was), though that might well have been down to the fact that he had an unhappy time there as assistant organist (briefly) after his student time at the R.C.M. He told me his second and third favourite organs - his third was St.Mary Redcliffe, I'm keeping quiet about his second, not yet having been granted permission to lay hands upon it!

 

For the whole of his life he held out the Gloucester organ as his favourite, indeed, he reckoned that everything he wrote for the organ was with those stops and tones in his mind. Hence, for instance, solos designated 'Ch' are necessarily for (unenclosed) gamba or small diapason rather than Clarinet or Orchestral Oboe, these were on the Solo.

 

* He didn't like excessively slow versions of anything, or unbending (as in 'metronomic') ones!

He told me of several performers, some of whom regularly broadcast his pieces, that he wished had left them alone.

He could be very conspiratorial. Not always having done much work to show him each week, I enjoyed getting him onto the subject of organs as you can imagine.

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Thanks for this interesting start !

 

It might be interesting now to see the specification of the Gloucester cathedral organ

as H.H. knew it. Here is the 1947 state:

 

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N07431

 

From a continental point of view, this scheme looks extremely exotic, typically british, the kind of which you will get

lots of questions if you post it on the french forum (possibly somewhat less now after two years this forum exists...)

 

Let us note some details:

 

-As Cynic pointed out, the Choir was not enclosed.

 

-The great had the traditional three Open Diapasons.

 

-The whole organ had only two Mixtures, each 17-19-22 (1 3/5'- 1 1/3'- 1'), widely different from today's Mixtures.

 

-The Swell provided the typical "Full-Swell" (16-8-4 reed chorus+ Mixture).

 

-The Solo was the true british post-romantic one (do NOT search for anything like that on the continent).

 

This may seem "historic junk" to some, but for me such facts tell a lot...

 

Pierre

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I regret that I cannot now find the article which (so far) best covers this subject. I thought it had appeared in a BIOS Journal, but I have searched this morning and have not located it! It was by Relf Clark and concerned exactly this - the application of the information we have to registering Howells' organ music effectively and in keeping with the style of the time. When I read it, I thought it was an excellent piece of work and tallied completely with what I had gleaned from the man himself.

I also remember reading something on this subject, and wonder if it was an article in the Church & Organ Music section of Musical Times very many years ago...

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I know that article. It is in the 1994 RCO Journal. It is well worth reading. Clark is strong on the organs of the era, how organists of the time registered them and, in his opinion, what sonorities Howells's textures suggest. However there is virtually nothing on Howells's own practices. Cynic gives us more. Clark also allies Howells's music with the Father Willis sound because of the composer's connections with Gloucester (before the Harrison rebuild) and Salisbury. Without wanting to pry I don't doubt that Cynic has sound reasons for his disagreement with this. (I guess we're looking for an H&H for that second favourite instrument.)

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How much might Howells have considered the sound of each particular organ, rather than just following dogma? Perhaps, say, a 2' might have been too "bright" for him on one organ where it would have "worked" for him on another? Don't we all find that perhaps a diapason chorus to 2' might be brighter than we want on one instrument, but fine on another?

 

And, perhaps, Howells might have had different ideas on different days, as I know I for one do.

 

I think that, the more we delve and consider, the more we find it difficult to make hard and fast rules.

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I'm not sure that Howells thought in terms of organ sound at all, though Cynic would know better than I. I say this merely because I remember Sidney Campbell telling me that he had once questioned Howells about his organ textures (probably none too approvingly since Campbell thought Howells's writing "messy") and Howells had replied to the effect that he wasn't much bothered because he just thought in terms of a string quartet. (It may have been a particular piece that Campbell asked about - I can't now remember.) It is possible, I suppose, that HH was simply cold-shouldering Campbell, but it sort of chimes with the young Howells asking Elgar for advice on writing for strings and being told to "study George Frederick... now and all your life". Howells's organ textures certainly do tend towards the orchestral (though they thinned out a little in the 60s).

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Whilst it's obvious that Howells did have contrapuntal ideas in mind whilst composing for the organ, I'm convinced he also had certain tonal sonorities in mind.

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Whilst it's obvious that Howells did have contrapuntal ideas in mind whilst composing for the organ, I'm convinced he also had certain tonal sonorities in mind.

Well he specifies Full Swell quite a lot and "Tuba" in several pieces, but that's about it. Other stop indications are quite exceptional - the only two I found in a quick look were a couple in the Six Pieces: "Swell strings" in the Preludio 'Sine nomine' and "Solo Oboe" (orchestral presumably) in the Sarabande in modo elegiaco. I'm not at all sure his organ accompaniments are any more informative (I think the Worcester Service specifies a Solo Oboe at the beginning).

 

If you are convinced Howells had certain tonal sonorities in mind, what is your evidence? Why did he not specify them in his music? After all, in all other respects Howells was meticulous to the point of fussiness in dictating the effects he wanted. Just look at all the finicky articulation and phrasing marks in his music. And have you noticed how he never writes a simple tempo instruction at the beginning of a piece, but always qualifies it: "Allegro, assai ritmico"; "Lento, poco appenato"; "Quasi quieto assai, non troppo lento, ma espressivo e poco risvegliato"? (OK, I made that last one up.)

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Well he specifies Full Swell quite a lot and "Tuba" in several pieces, but that's about it. Other stop indications are quite exceptional - the only two I found in a quick look were a couple in the Six Pieces: "Swell strings" in the Preludio 'Sine nomine' and "Solo Oboe" (orchestral presumably) in the Sarabande in modo elegiaco. I'm not at all sure his organ accompaniments are any more informative (I think the Worcester Service specifies a Solo Oboe at the beginning).

 

If you are convinced Howells had certain tonal sonorities in mind, what is your evidence? Why did he not specify them in his music? After all, in all other respects Howells was meticulous to the point of fussiness in dictating the effects he wanted. Just look at all the finicky articulation and phrasing marks in his music. And have you noticed how he never writes a simple tempo instruction at the beginning of a piece, but always qualifies it: "Allegro, assai ritmico"; "Lento, poco appenato"; "Quasi quieto assai, non troppo lento, ma espressivo e poco risvegliato"? (OK, I made that last one up.)

 

 

I'm with Vox above.

Mind you, when one discussed his pieces, he had quite often forgotten them himself. I realise that I was with him when he was already well into his third age but he could argue that he had never done something and then I could flourish the copy and prove that he had. For instance, he told me off for writing pedal parts with double-pedalling more than two octaves apart...'I'd never do that, make them do the splits!' and of course he already had, more than once.

 

I don't remember a player's choice of tone colour being a problem. I'd play him something on cassette and there would never be 'Why haven't you used a clarinet?' or similar. His comment would be along the lines of 'I'm glad you've brought that line out'.

 

The elaboration in his work - the melisma, the quasi-Tudor ornaments and odd little rhythmic shakes - all this was deliberate (sometimes put in later, I watched him do some!) and a useful by-product of it, as he explained to me, was that it made his work look difficult. He said 'I do that to keep the wrong people off-em!' Mind you, as stated earlier in this topic, that did not exactly work. I do remember him saying that even a bad performance is worth having if you're a composer. Now you see, I feel exactly the opposite. I'd rather not publish anything because once it's out there it can get trashed. I have a recording somewhere of a first performance of something of mine given in a famous place by a reputable (well-known) player where I can barely recognise the music myself.

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I don't remember a player's choice of tone colour being a problem. I'd play him something on cassette and there would never be 'Why haven't you used a clarinet?' or similar. His comment would be along the lines of 'I'm glad you've brought that line out'.

This is interesting. Presumably this means that Howells had no objection to players soloing phrases that he had not actually marked as solos in the score. I do hope so since it will legitimise one or two slightly naughty things I do!

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I know that article. It is in the 1994 RCO Journal. It is well worth reading. Clark is strong on the organs of the era, how organists of the time registered them and, in his opinion, what sonorities Howells's textures suggest. However there is virtually nothing on Howells's own practices. Cynic gives us more. Clark also allies Howells's music with the Father Willis sound because of the composer's connections with Gloucester (before the Harrison rebuild) and Salisbury. Without wanting to pry I don't doubt that Cynic has sound reasons for his disagreement with this. (I guess we're looking for an H&H for that second favourite instrument.)

 

I went to a lunchtime recital by James Lancelot in Durham Cathedral a little over a year ago and James played Master Tallis' Testament. In the programme notes he explained that after the 1971 rebuild at Gloucester Howells regarded the Durham Cathedral Organ as the best one for his music. He was obviously a man of excellent taste!

 

Charles

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H.H. is absolutely unknown in continental Europe; do we know if he ever

played continental organs ?

If you know only one style of organ, moreover a very idiosyncratic one, you

may take for granted things that are not elsewhere.

 

Pierre

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If you are convinced Howells had certain tonal sonorities in mind, what is your evidence? Why did he not specify them in his music?

 

Yes, it is rather strange that he didn't specify them. Perhaps he didn't because no two organs are alike and because the performer's organ would be rather different to Gloucester (as then was), say.

 

However, the fact that he would place instructions on which manual he wanted to use (I, II, III etc) suggests to me that Howells must have had a certain organ in mind, and the sonorities available on each of those manuals.

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And have you noticed how he never writes a simple tempo instruction at the beginning of a piece, but always qualifies it: "Allegro, assai ritmico"; "Lento, poco appenato"; "Quasi quieto assai, non troppo lento, ma espressivo e poco risvegliato"? (OK, I made that last one up.)

 

Come on, VH, you'll have to translate that last one for ignorami such as myself!

 

I don't think I've seen anyone other than Howells use the terms affanoso and poco appenato and ancora piu (cresc.) Come to think of it, with the exception of the last one, what do they mean?

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Hehe! Indeed. Howells loved the sound of words, both British and foreign (he even composed a couple of songs to Afrikaans texts) and I am quite sure he took a positive delight in digging up novel Italian terms. It's a bit of a pain for those of us not fluent in the language! I got so fed up with being puzzled that I ended up going through all his music that I had and making a list of these terms.

 

Affannoso = anxious, worried.

 

Appenato = pained (i.e. tormented)

 

Other Howells favourites:

 

Estinto = extinguished

 

Risvegiliato - awakened, revived (i.e. animated)

 

Perdendosi = losing itself

 

So the third example I gave previously means "Almost very quiet, not too slowly, but expressively and somewhat awakened"!

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H.H. is absolutely unknown in continental Europe

Not absolutely! Four years ago a friend in Germany sent me a CD of a Christmas concert given by the Aachen Youth Choir. Among the 19 pieces in the programme were Howells's three carol-anthems (Here is the little door, A spotless rose, Sing lullaby) and, amazingly, the Magnificat from his Hereford Service - how many British choirs performed that four years ago, let alone continental ones? It really should be better known; it's well worthwhile. The Gloria (to both Mag and Nunc) is built entirely over an anchored tonic pedal. It's the same technique Howells used for the opening of the last movement of Hymnus to pile up the ecstacy, though since the Gloria remains firmly rooted on the tonic it lacks the orgasmic release you get in Hymnus when the pedal note finally moves).

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Yes, it is rather strange that he didn't specify them. Perhaps he didn't because no two organs are alike and because the performer's organ would be rather different to Gloucester (as then was), say.

 

However, the fact that he would place instructions on which manual he wanted to use (I, II, III etc) suggests to me that Howells must have had a certain organ in mind, and the sonorities available on each of those manuals.

True enough, I think. Cynic and others have confirmed that Howells always wrote with the (pre-Downes) Gloucester organ in mind. Howells would have known that, whilst all British Romantic organs are indeed different, they are at the same time all variations on a theme - you know broadly what types of stops you can expect to find on a large three- or four-decker; it's just the details that vary. So specifying the manuals was as prescriptive as it was practical to be. In any case, Cynic has shown that Howells was happy to be flexible about the precise tone colours.

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Guest Cynic
I went to a lunchtime recital by James Lancelot in Durham Cathedral a little over a year ago and James played Master Tallis' Testament. In the programme notes he explained that after the 1971 rebuild at Gloucester Howells regarded the Durham Cathedral Organ as the best one for his music. He was obviously a man of excellent taste!

 

Charles

 

 

[All right, you weedled it out of me...or rather someone beat me to it.]

Durham was Howells' second favourite organ, I can firmly confirm this account.

 

P.

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True enough, I think. Cynic and others have confirmed that Howells always wrote with the (pre-Downes) Gloucester organ in mind. Howells would have known that, whilst all British Romantic organs are indeed different, they are at the same time all variations on a theme - you know broadly what types of stops you can expect to find on a large three- or four-decker; it's just the details that vary. So specifying the manuals was as prescriptive as it was practical to be. In any case, Cynic has shown that Howells was happy to be flexible about the precise tone colours.

 

 

===============================

 

 

Not being one to enjoy the music of HH (I do actually like "M T'sT") I've held back on this topic. However, if you look through an awful lot of British music from the period, the registration would come to mind instantly. Like all "dark arts," those of a certain age just know how to do things, and it all derives from the old ways of Anglican Accompaniment.

 

So we know how to use enclosed divisions, and allow registers to creep in and out of the music, and how to swap manuals strategically, mid-phrase, or bring out a particular musical counter-melody on the Solo organ.

 

I think I learned more by listening to Francis Jackson, than by almost any other means, and I'm quite sure others will say the same about others. (I'm certain, for instance, that "Vox" would immediately bring to mind Sidney Campbell).

 

So I suspect that registration for Howells really is a "dark art," which filtered down via Anglican worship, to become musical second-nature, but actually writing it all down for posterity would be almost impossible. The best way, as always, is to listen to recordings and try and work out what is going on. There are lots of recordings about, and the music of Herbert Howells is not exactly under-represented.

 

MM

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"So I suspect that registration for Howells really is a "dark art," which filtered down via Anglican worship, to become musical second-nature, but actually writing it all down for posterity would be almost impossible. The best way, as always, is to listen to recordings and try and work out what is going on. There are lots of recordings about, and the music of Herbert Howells is not exactly under-represented."

(Quote)

 

So far, so good.

Now those "traditional ways which seem self-evidences" are completely ignored

outside the UK (and the United States, Australia, New-Zealand...), and will soon

be in the english-speaking world when a next generation of organists will have

been trained entirely on modern organs.

 

Also thanks for sharing some evidences !

 

Pierre

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I went to a lunchtime recital by James Lancelot in Durham Cathedral a little over a year ago and James played Master Tallis' Testament. In the programme notes he explained that after the 1971 rebuild at Gloucester Howells regarded the Durham Cathedral Organ as the best one for his music. He was obviously a man of excellent taste!

 

Charles

 

Thats why my recording of the same piece, same organ and the same organist, sounds so right, :) although I did it a few years ago, what say you Pierre

Regards

Peter

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....As I already told you !

 

Of course this organ I heard once in Situ is a gem. No wonder Howells

liked it. Even better, I do not believe it is in danger, quite to the contrary....

 

Who will record that complete organ works of who we know ?

 

Pierre

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Not being one to enjoy the music of HH (I do actually like "M T'sT") I've held back on this topic. However, if you look through an awful lot of British music from the period, the registration would come to mind instantly. Like all "dark arts," those of a certain age just know how to do things, and it all derives from the old ways of Anglican Accompaniment.

 

So we know how to use enclosed divisions, and allow registers to creep in and out of the music, and how to swap manuals strategically, mid-phrase, or bring out a particular musical counter-melody on the Solo organ.

Though having missed out on first hand experience, I believe, quite appropriately in the context of this discussion, that you are describing the legendary (around here anyway) playing of Herbert Sumsion.

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[All right, you weedled it out of me...or rather someone beat me to it.]

Durham was Howells' second favourite organ, I can firmly confirm this account.

 

P.

 

Was Durham the second favourite only post-1970 or before? On the face of it, everything you would want for Howells was there before (except the second 32' reed) and, judging by the earlier post, he would have preferred the Great mixture at the original (15?-)17-19-22 rather than the new 19-22-26-29.

 

I know he liked Redcliffe (another organ with two 32' reeds . . .) - did he ever hear/play Bristol Cathedral, that anyone knows of?

 

Paul

(Asst, Bristol)

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