Writing about the music of Herbert Howells, his student and biographer Paul Spicer summarizes:
This is not music to draw in the masses. It is not music to be broadcast from loudspeakers across a football stadium with massed congregations. It is a private spiritual experience and his aim was to conjure a very specific atmosphere. This is music addressing a God who is firmly in his heaven and where his angels minister for him on earth. It is music of dignity, distance and also incredible passion, which creates an intense sense of wonder in the listener. It is musical impressionism – very much parallel to what was being so successfully composed in France by the likes of Debussy and Ravel – or in church circles, Maurice Duruflé. But if you have ever been to Choral Evensong in an English cathedral on a dusky November evening and been drawn into the unique atmosphere and mood you will know exactly how Howells has bottled the whole experience in his music.
In a similar vein, composer and conductor John Rutter has written that Howells is “the composer who, more than any other, gave the Anglican Church its musical voice in the second half of the twentieth century.”
For clues about how Howells discovered his musical voice, read “Herbert Howells: Musical Stewardship and Innovation.”
Works by Herbert Howells in the
All Saints Choir repertoire
My eyes for beauty pine
A spotless rose