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Pierre Lauwers

Herbert Howells Registration

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My greatest regret - and how I regret it - is that I never discussed any of his own compositions with him. In those days I was very reserved and too shy to raise the subject. There is so much I should have asked!

 

Now, this is an interesting comment. I seem to remember reading in Humphrey Carpenter's Britten biography that some pupil of Britten's who had previously been taught by Howells commented that Howells was a "vain little man" who only ever used his own music to illustrate a musical point, never anyone else's. What Vox says would seem to contradict that completely. How interesting!

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Now, this is an interesting comment. I seem to remember reading in Humphrey Carpenter's Britten biography that some pupil of Britten's who had previously been taught by Howells commented that Howells was a "vain little man" who only ever used his own music to illustrate a musical point, never anyone else's. What Vox says would seem to contradict that completely. How interesting!

 

 

Vain?

 

I suppose that is not very far from the truth but it is maybe more than a little unkind. One to one, he was always very kind and (as I put it before and cannot think of a better description) 'conspiratorial'. He was genuinely amusing and told countless anacdotes. If his works came up in lessons it was because I raised them, and he certainly used plenty of examples by other composers when required, (most frequently Bach, I think, where counterpoint was involved). Do you know, once written, he might have remembered the occasion that helped create a work but (I found) rarely the details of the work itself. I saw some of the proofs of the Partita and his pencilled notes upon them, Novello's editors and typesetters were a thorn in his side because they would not permit features to be included that he thought important - deliberate joining across of quaver tails from one bar to another and similar. On only one thing he got his way at that time, he managed to get them to stop putting that anaemic tinted photo of a St.Cecila window on the covers of his works! With retrospect, I think he should have tried harder to get them to keep everything in print the same as his autograph copies!

 

Rather than 'vain' he was (quite justifiably) proud of the hard work he had done - his FRCO, for instance gave him great pleasure, which he was careful to point out had been gained by examination. He was, perhaps, highly aware of his position. He did 'go on' quite a bit about other composers - I remember him discussing Ravel, Delius (a lot - he kept telling me how inadequately Delius's good ideas were notated, lack of proper musical grammar etc.) Lennox Berkeley and Tournemire. I found these choices interesting, notably in that they were in many ways the composers whose works were nearest to his own style.

 

He suffered from what some call 'little man's disease' - anxious not to be overlooked, anxious to make his mark which (by any standards) he most certainly had done! A veritable 'son of the shires' who had been obliged to learn so much so early, including how to blend in with both genuine and aspiring musical aristocracy. His speech was always particularly precise, doubtless his diction had been carefully modelled on the best cut-glass r.p. of the time.

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I never heard anyone call him vain and it is not something that ever occurred to me. But he was already old when I knew him. Maybe when he was younger...

 

Interestingly, however, Paul Spicer relates how Alan Ridout attended a lecture by Howells on the subject of mourning - it was shortly after the death of King George VI. Howells played a recording of a work, saying that its title and composer were of no consequence. At the end he said, "If there is a better expression of the music of mourning, I have yet to hear it." Howells never disclosed what the work was, but Ridout had the same recording so happened to know that it was Howells's own Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra. Was this vanity? Perhaps, perhaps not. Maybe it was just self-assurance. The way Howells wrote about what he called "the requiem called Hymnus Paradisi" - the degrees to which light pervades all the movements except "I heard a voice" and how he had to ensure that the final movement was not eclipsed by the blaze of light in the Sanctus - all this suggests merely that when he was composing he knew exactly what he doing.

 

It was rumoured at the RCM that he could be very sarcastic, but, again, I never encountered the slightest hint of this. As Cynic says, one to one he was very kind. I do wonder, though, whether his love of words might sometimes have got him into trouble when adjudicating at festivals.

 

Howells and publishers changing his notation - oh yes, he complained to me about that as well!

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It is interesting that he discussed, among others, about Tournemire.

 

Pierre

 

 

He knew him personally.

He recounted to me a conversation where T had bemoaned how his music was rarely purchased and still more rarely played.

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He did 'go on' quite a bit about other composers - I remember him discussing Ravel, Delius (a lot - he kept telling me how inadequately Delius's good ideas were notated, lack of proper musical grammar etc.) Lennox Berkeley and Tournemire. I found these choices interesting, notably in that they were in many ways the composers whose works were nearest to his own style.

 

snip

 

 

I must re-tell one anecdote, if only to exemplify what I termed as 'conspiratorial'.

 

Looking at something of mine one day, he suddenly came out with

'Years ago, I sold that chord to Lennox Berkeley!'

Apparently Berkeley found himself using a particular (I think augmented) chord which he knew he'd heard in a Howells work, and they did a comic 'fellow-student' deal. However, HH added with great glee

'....but I didn't tell him how to use it!!'

He was fond of Lennox and pronounced himself very sorry that LB had gone to France to study with Nadia Boulanger. According to him, LB was writing much nicer music before than after this experience.

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Now, this is an interesting comment. I seem to remember reading in Humphrey Carpenter's Britten biography that some pupil of Britten's who had previously been taught by Howells commented that Howells was a "vain little man" who only ever used his own music to illustrate a musical point, never anyone else's. What Vox says would seem to contradict that completely. How interesting!

Pots and kettles, I think. I have never read any account of Britten's life or work in which the word 'modesty' appeared.

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Pots and kettles, I think. I have never read any account of Britten's life or work in which the word 'modesty' appeared.

 

 

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

 

 

I'm not sure if "pots and kettles" applies to the following, or whether it was "the vanity of the Gods," but I recall my first ever Harmony & Counterpoint tutorial with a certain living composer.

 

Anxious to set the right impression, I agreed with every word uttered by the great man, but permitted myself just a tiny fraction of independent thought when he asked me to write "a two part invention" in the style of Bach.

 

"Or Handel perhaps?" I suggested.

 

With utter scorn and contempt, the siad tutor hissed, "Don't mention Handel to me. He was the sort of man who would do anything for position, money or favour."

 

Quite shocked by this opinion, I replied, "Oh well, I suppose there are a lot of people like that around. I expect some awful sycophant will write something for the opening of the Humber Bridge."

 

His eyes narrowed as he drew heavily on his pipe, and replied with impressive venom, "Well, as a matter of fact, I am!"

 

How to lose friends and influence people!!!!!!

 

;)

 

MM

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He knew him personally.

He recounted to me a conversation where T had bemoaned how his music was rarely purchased and still more rarely played.

 

Quite interesting, again !

 

Tournemire is regaining interest in France, along with Post-romantic organs like Mutin's and Puget's.

Howells and Tournemire share much in common, besides the same period (partly) and a fully

post-romantic aesthetic.

We should never forget a 1930 Jeu de Tierce (Bourdon 8' Flûte 4' Nasard 2 2/3' Doublette 2' Tierce 1 3/5')

sounds rather like a Dulciana Mixture or Harmonia Aetherea than anything baroque, let alone neo copies.

This is even true for Messiaen, at least in the early works.

 

What I do know is whenever a french likes Tournemire, he'll like H.H. as well (tried and tested!)

 

Pierre

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Quite interesting, again !

 

Tournemire is regaining interest in France, along with Post-romantic organs like Mutin's and Puget's.

Howells and Tournemire share much in common, besides the same period (partly) and a fully

post-romantic aesthetic.

We should never forget a 1930 Jeu de Tierce (Bourdon 8' Flûte 4' Nasard 2 2/3' Doublette 2' Tierce 1 3/5')

sounds rather like a Dulciana Mixture or Harmonia Aetherea than anything baroque, let alone neo copies.

This is even true for Messiaen, at least in the early works.

 

What I do know is whenever a french likes Tournemire, he'll like H.H. as well (tried and tested!)

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

 

I'm quite sure Howells and Tournemire share much in common, but after lifting out the plainsong and the French impressionism, I can't precisely think what it might be.

 

I actually love Tournemire and detest Howells, so I guess there must be differences of which I approve.

 

The comment about neo-organs, French-persons and H & H are quite interesting, since one of the best recordings I know of Tournemire, is that played by Jeanne Demessiuex at Liverpool Metropolitan on the big J W Walker & Son instrument!

 

MM

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I have no idea whether it is coincidental or not, but I find it interesting that John Henderson also juxtaposes Howells and Tournemire in his Directory of Composers for the Organ. In the entry for Howells he writes, "If Charles Tournemire was the French "mystic", then surely Howells was the English "mystic"".

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"I actually love Tournemire and detest Howells, so I guess there must be differences of which I approve."

(Quote)

 

If one likes Maserati and not Ferrari, we might suppose, as both are sports luxury cars, there might be

reasons for that that are distinct from the basics.

Tournemire used the huge gregorian Heritage, while Howells did not."L'orgue mystique" is mainly made of short pieces intended for use in the RC church services, while Howells, in his organ solo works, provided rather long meditations (but Messiaen did exactly that as well); for church services there are the choral works.

 

But behind those formal differencies, both composers crammed their music with deep-minded discourses, emotion. Tournemire also was not precisely an extroverted, laughing man.

 

Pierre

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I have no idea whether it is coincidental or not, but I find it interesting that John Henderson also juxtaposes Howells and Tournemire in his Directory of Composers for the Organ. In the entry for Howells he writes, "If Charles Tournemire was the French "mystic", then surely Howells was the English "mystic"".

 

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

 

 

I cannot go along with the concept of "mystical" Howells. Mysterious would be nearer the truth I suspect, in the sense of "let's have a harmonic mystery tour" or "whither shall we next ramble?"

 

The only organ-work which bucked the trend was "Master Tallis's testament," which demonstrates what can happen when someone is handed a good tune. (Something also said of Vaughan-Williams "Tallis" work).

 

We have to ask what effect Howells ever had on anyone else, expect a million wanna-be improvisations. Tournemire, on the other hand, had a profound influence on Durufle (and possibly others), and in terms of organ-colour and technique, Tournemire truly stretched the boundaries; using all sorts of techniques which made him extremely original and incredibly inventive.

 

I'm sorry, but by way of comaprison, I find Howells over-rated, over-played and exclusively over-here.

 

MM

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If one likes Maserati and not Ferrari, we might suppose, as both are sports luxury cars, there might be

reasons for that that are distinct from the basics.

 

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

 

 

That's like comparing a Ford and a Fiat......Oh dear! We are, aren't we?

 

Give me a Caterham (Lotus) Seven anyday, and I'll show both of them a clean pair of heels.

 

;)

 

 

MM

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"We have to ask what effect Howells ever had on anyone else, expect a million wanna-be improvisations. Tournemire, on the other hand, had a profound influence on Durufle (and possibly others), and in terms of organ-colour and technique, Tournemire truly stretched the boundaries; using all sorts of techniques which made him extremely original and incredibly inventive."

(Quote)

 

Howells, like Karg-Elert, had no direct successors.....Because they were at the very end of a period!

The french were often influenced by foreign composers in the first place. Let us cite Beethoven on Franck,

Wagner on Dupré -he was a distinguished "Wagnérien"- while Duruflé was, among others, influenced

by Max Reger,etc.

Tournemire stood somewhat isolated because of struggles with Dupré. The parisian scene is not always

an enjoyable one...

 

Pierre

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We have to ask what effect Howells ever had on anyone else, expect a million wanna-be improvisations.

Judging by the number of pale imitations one comes across he also inspired a whole legion of lesser and/or amateur composers. I would suggest that the reason why no obvious legacy is apparent in the mainstream composers who came after him is that his music is so individual than none could possibly dare imitate it for fear of being ridiculed for plagiarism. And of course, as Pierre points out, he stands right at the end of the British pastoral tradition that was already moribund long before he died. You might as well criticse Bach for not having left any imitators other than a single pupil.

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snip

 

I would suggest that the reason why no obvious legacy is apparent in the mainstream composers who came after him is that his music is so individual than none could possibly dare imitate it for fear of being ridiculed for plagiarism.

 

snip

 

 

I hesitate to say this because I could not possibly give the name here, but there is IMVHO one former HH pupil who shamelessly plunders HH's special effects in his works. It does not seem to have done him any harm, but I find his works difficult to sit through as a result.

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Judging by the number of pale imitations one comes across he also inspired a whole legion of lesser and/or amateur composers. I would suggest that the reason why no obvious legacy is apparent in the mainstream composers who came after him is that his music is so individual than none could possibly dare imitate it for fear of being ridiculed for plagiarism. And of course, as Pierre points out, he stands right at the end of the British pastoral tradition that was already moribund long before he died. You might as well criticse Bach for not having left any imitators other than a single pupil.

 

 

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

 

 

Not quite true, but that's what the history books like to tell us.

 

Of course, Bach's greatest "imitator" was, without a shadow of doubt, Max Reger.

 

MM

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"Of course, Bach's greatest "imitator" was, without a shadow of doubt, Max Reger."

(Quote)

 

Yes!!!

Exactly like Walcker was the true pupil of the baroque period.

 

Pierre

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"Of course, Bach's greatest "imitator" was, without a shadow of doubt, Max Reger."

(Quote)

 

Yes!!!

Exactly like Walcker was the true pupil of the baroque period.

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

 

The "imitation" of Bach is not confined to Max Reger of course. Another composer who followed the Bach tradition as a BAROQUE composer, was the Czech, Josef Seger, who survived Bach by a full 32 years (1716-1782). In addition to writing Preludes and Fugues in BAROQUE style, long after the classical style had begun elsewhere, he arranged Bach's organ-works in such a way that they could be played on short-compass instruments.

 

Seger had absorbed the style of the largely unknown Cernohorsky, who not only knew Bach's music, but had actually performed with him. Sadly, the musical link is a bit difficult to trace, due to the fact that almost 400 compositions by Cernohorsky perished in a library fire, and very little therefore survives. He was known as "the Bohemian Bach," and founded a whole school of composers writing in contrapuntal style. One of them was Tuma, who went on to teach Haydn and influence Mozart.

 

Another composer who very deliberately imitated Bach was a certain Mr Beethoven.

 

I recall hearing some works by him, which had been transcribed to organ, and which were heard on BBC Radio 3 many years ago. (The name Wilhelm Kulmbach rings a bell). These were not just fantastic pieces, they were probably the equal of anything Bach wrote, and very much in Bach style.

 

MM

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I cannot go along with the concept of "mystical" Howells.

I never said I agreed. :) I do think he could be "visionary" at times, though (Sequence for St Michael, House of the Mind, parts of Hymnus).

 

I think to call Beethoven - or Mozart for that matter - imitators of Bach does both men a disservice. Of course they learnt from Bach's example, but they were far, far more than imitators. The study of species counterpoint was fundamental to any composer's training of course and long had been. As for Seger and Cernohorsky, I confess I have yet to see anything of theirs that speaks of Bach rather than routine contrapuntal training. Interesting composers nonetheless. As for Reger, well, if he is an imitator of Bach (which again I would dispute - absorbtion of techniques does not necessarily amount to imitation), what a pity he didn't imitate Bach a bit more - like how to sustain the interest. And if Howells was a rambler, at least he knew where he was rambling from and to - he didn't keep sinking knee-deep in mud and screwing himself deeper into it while trying to extract himself. :P

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I hesitate to say this because I could not possibly give the name here, but there is IMVHO one former HH pupil who shamelessly plunders HH's special effects in his works. It does not seem to have done him any harm, but I find his works difficult to sit through as a result.

 

P.D.Q. Howells? :)

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I never said I agreed. :) I do think he could be "visionary" at times, though (Sequence for St Michael, House of the Mind, parts of Hymnus).

 

I think to call Beethoven - or Mozart for that matter - imitators of Bach does both men a disservice. Of course they learnt from Bach's example, but they were far, far more than imitators. The study of species counterpoint was fundamental to any composer's training of course and long had been. As for Seger and Cernohorsky, I confess I have yet to see anything of theirs that speaks of Bach rather than routine contrapuntal training. Interesting composers nonetheless. As for Reger, well, if he is an imitator of Bach (which again I would dispute - absorbtion of techniques does not necessarily amount to imitation), what a pity he didn't imitate Bach a bit more - like how to sustain the interest. And if Howells was a rambler, at least he knew where he was rambling from and to - he didn't keep sinking knee-deep in mud and screwing himself deeper into it while trying to extract himself. :P

 

 

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

 

 

To be honest, I don't think any composer sets out to consciously imitate another, but in the case of Beethoven, it went beyond mere study I suspect.

 

I wish I could remember more, but the trios transcribed to the organ which were broadcast on Radio 3 possibly 40 years ago, I still have somewhere on reel-to-reel tape. I don't know whether Friederich Sprondel could throw any light on the origins of these works, but I would repeat the name Wilhelm Kulmbach (?) as the possible source and performer.

 

My view, (for what it's worth considering that I don't really know), is that Beethoven not only imitated, but actually equalled what Bach achieved in trio writing. It may have been the work of Beethoven the autodidact (was he ever really taught?), but I was absolutely astonished by them when they were broadcast.

 

Cernohorsky is one of the great tragedies of music; the loss of 400 works, almost his entire output. A brilliant contrpuntalist, his name would probably have stood alongside those of Bach and Buxtehude had the works survived. What bit remains is absolutely tantalising.

 

Zelenka was another Czech composer of extraordinary ability, and one whom Bach admired greatly. A bit like Bach with a hint of Gesualdo, his works are tremendously powerful. Some of the choral works are absolutely stunning.

 

The criticism that Reger "rambled" is not, I feel, very fair. Reger was always structured to a fine degree, but I would concede that the structure was often "double" and "treble" what it needed to be, which perhaps placed intellect before musical immediacy. However, in the shorter works, everything that Bach represented is there, and the most obvious example has to be the short Passacaglia & Fugue (the D minor one). Organ writing doesn't come much more compelling or powerful. As for imitation, the fact that Reger went to the extraordinary lengths of re-writing two part inventions as organ trios, is proof enough that he was totally immersed in the Bach style. (Wickedly difficult!).

 

In fact, one of my favourite Reger works is a Fantasia & Fugue (Opus 135b), in which the fugue appears to be a sort of harmonic (rather than exact notational) copy of Bach's great A minor P & F. At one point, it is almost note for note the same as part of that Bach work, but then picks up the fugal thread once more, and goes its own way. Of course, at twenty minutes in length, it wouldn't be Reger if it wasn't twice as long as the Bach!!!!

 

Still, it does prove that Reger was definitely imitating Bach, rather than just using Bach as a source of inspiration.

 

As for Seger, I have to admit that I find his music competent rather than inspirational, but at least his works and Bach trasncriptions provide the proof that Bach was known and played perhaps as many as 30 years after Bach's death.

 

In fact, the history of Czech music must be quite unique, because it appears that even as Mozart was visiting Prague and conducting opera, the baroque style co-existed; especially in the churches. Was it a case of "secular and religious".....rather like "town and gown" in Cambridge?

 

Prague must have been quite a melting-pot of cosmopolitan thinking, as of course, it still tends to be to-day.

 

MM

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P.D.Q. Howells? :P

 

 

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

 

 

Pretty Darned Quick Howells, eh?

 

What an excellent idea!

 

I must try this for myself and report back. Perhaps this is where I have been going wrong.

 

If I double the speeds, it may well be that I can get to the end of a page without falling asleep or drifting off into abstract thoughts about planetary motion, pulsars and black-holes. Usually, I found myself trying to recall good jokes mid-Rhapsody, and then disovered that I actually preferred the jokes to the music. Even worse, was when I lost all interest in a piece, and started to improvise instead.

 

The sad thing is, no-one ever complained or even noticed.

 

:)

 

MM

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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.

I've just found another one in a piece I've only recently acquired - the Te Deum for Columbia University.

 

Galleggiante.

 

What the....?

 

It means "floating", apparently.

 

I'd never have bothered to buy an Italian dictionary if it wasn't for Howells.

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