Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, September 7

Hymnus Paradisi by Herbert Howells

Synopsis

“The Three Choirs Festival” is one of England’s oldest musical traditions. Established around 1715, it showcases the cathedral choirs of Gloucester, Worcester, and Herford, and presents both choral and orchestral works by British composers

Vaughan Williams' “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” was premiered there in 1910, and in the audience was an 18-year-old aspiring composer named Herbert Howells, who later would relate how Vaughan Williams had sat next to him for the remainder of the concert and shared his score of Elgar's “The Dream of Gerontius” with him.

Howells studied music at Gloucester Cathedral before heading off to London and the Royal College of Music. He also got married and had two children. In 1935, his 9-year-old son Michael contracted polio and died three days later. The grief-stricken Howells began composing a memorial work as private therapy, choral sketches he considered too painful to complete and too personal to have performed.

But in 1950 Howells was asked for a new work to be premiered at Three Choirs Festival, and, at the urging of Vaughan Williams and others who had seen Howell’s private sketches, Howells completed a work he titled “Hymnus Paradisi,” and led the premiere himself on September 7, 1950, one day after the 15th anniversary of his son's death.

Music Played in Today's Program

Herbert Howells Hymnus Paradisi Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra; Vernon Handley, cond. Hyperion 66448

Additional Information

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