Early in his career he composed chamber and orchestral music but is best remembered for his large legacy of sacred works, of which Hymnus Paradisi and Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing are particularly memorable.
Howells was born in Gloucestershire, where his father was an amateur organist. Herbert himself showed early musical promise and studied with Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral, as an articled pupil alongside Ivor Gurney, the celebrated English songwriter and poet, with whom he became great friends.
In 1960, at the close of the year in which he was Master, Howells composed his Hymn for St Cecilia, to words by Ursula Vaughan Williams (widow of the composer), for the Livery Club of the Musicians’ Company, paying tribute in the subject to the Patron Saint of Music. In 1931 Howells had been the first recipient of the John Collard Fellowship, awarded by the Company to young musicians of proven ability. In 1934, at the end of this period as a Collard Fellow, he became a Freeman and Liveryman of the Company.
He was assistant organist at Salisbury Cathedral in 1917 and he later joined the faculty of the Royal College of Music in 1920. During World War II, he served as acting organist of St John's College, Cambridge.
In 1953 Howells was awarded the CBE and in 1961 an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University, and he was made a Companion of Honour in 1972. He was godfather to the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and among his pupils were Robert Simpson, Gordon Jacob, Peter Pears and Imogen Holst.
Autograph manuscript of A Hymn for St Cecilia
Prof. Herbert Norman Howells CH CBE (1892-1983)
Just before becoming Master in 1959, he was awarded the Collard Honorary Life Fellowship, in succession to Ralph Vaughan Williams. The 'Thank You' note he sent to the Company in recognition of this honour is shown in the images right
Click on the red triangle below, to hear a 1993 recording of this composition at St Paul's Cathedral, taken from a Hyperion CD.
This recording of 'A Hymn for St Cecilia', composed by Herbert Howells, is taken from a Hyperion CD called The English Anthem (CDCDA66678). The audio clip appears here by courtesy of Hyperion Records.
This performance was by the St Paul's Cathedral Choir, conducted by Liveryman John Scott in July 1993.
CD Released by Hyperion in Feb1994.
Please visit www.hyperion-records.co.uk where this recording can be purchased (CD cover shown right).
Shown below are images of the original manuscript score by Howells. Click on an image to expand.