Paean (Herbert Howells)


From the composer of ‘Pageantry’ and ‘Three Figures’, the majestic finale to Howell’s ‘six pieces for organ’ has been creatively transcribed by Nick Walkley. A challenging but rewarding work for the best of brass bands, and first performed by Manger Musikklag.
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After the death of Herbert Howells in 1983, organist and conductor Robin Wells discovered amongst Howells’ manuscripts and papers a number of references to a set of ‘six short organ pieces’. It was begun in 1939, and was clear that the composer had worked on this set from time to time without completion. Wells took six of the more substantial sketches and drafts, and edited and completed them for publication, including the sixth from 1953, ‘paean’.


Howells himself was an organist and involved with church music from an early age. He grew up in Lydney, Gloucestershire and was involved in the local parish church as a choirboy and deputy organist from the age of 11. In 1905 he began lessons with Herbert Brewer, organist at Gloucester Cathedral, and at the age of 16 began as articled pupil at the cathedral alongside Ivor Novello and Ivor Gurney. In 1910, a formative experience for Howells was the premiere of Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis’ at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival. Howells liked to relate in after years how Vaughan Williams sat next to him for the remainder of the concert and shared his score of Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.


Later in 1912, Howells moved to London to study composition at the Royal College of music. There he began a life-long association with the college, and was later employed as a teacher there until 1979. Amongst Howells’ most revered works is Hymnus Paradisi, a large scale choral work written to commemorate the loss to polio of Howell’s young song Michael at the age of only 9. The later Stabat Mater, was first performed in 1965, is also a reflection of that period of mourning. The motet ‘Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing’ was commissioned for a 1964 memorial service for John F Kennedy, and is considered a masterpiece by many of Howells’ followers.


Howells is known to the brass band community as the composer of Pageantry (1934), and Three Figures (1960). Both of these contest works remain part of the core repertoire for band and are much loved and treasured by brass musicians. With this arrangement of ‘Paean’, the brass band community is able to enjoy a new addition of Howell’s music to its repertoire. It is no less demanding than the contest pieces but offers to the brass band another side of the composer. Both of the original Howell’s works for brass band employ much fanfare like marcato, particularly in the outer movements. This adaptation from organ however invites a much more expressive sort of phrasing. In extending this work to brass band, the arranger has deliberately sought to unlock an expressive quality to the music that is perhaps even beyond the reach of the organ. It is hoped that lines more reminiscent of those from Howell’s choral and orchestral works can be found here, perhaps even outside of the imagination of the composer himself for the capabilities of the modern brass band.


It is with the greatest respect for the music of Herbert Howells that I as an arranger have aimed to unveil more of his music to the brass band medium. I too have grown up in Gloucestershire, and in the shadow of Gloucester Cathedral. The church at Twigworth where Herbert married, and later buried his son and wife, was on my route to school. Howell’s world has always been a part of mine and it is with pride that I complete and publish this arrangement. A special thanks goes to the assistance of Manger Musikklag and conductors Trond Husebø and Joe Cook in preparing its first performances in Manger and Oslo.


Nick Walkley

23rd April 2019

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Herbert Howells


Nick Walkley

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