Thursday, 9 February 2012

Words and Music - 'I Love All Beauteous Things'

Herbert Howells
1892 - 1983
While music can be a powerful force when put behind television dialogues and film cameras, often the powerful force behind music is the composer’s choice and use of words. As a composer myself, I find words to be the initial component when it comes to writing a piece of music, and as a predominantly choral writer, without them I would be completely lost. For me, Herbert Howells’ ‘I Love All Beauteous Things’ is a perfect example of text and music together at their best, thanks to Howells and Robert Bridges. In the opening, we can hear the haunting and dissonant sounds of the organ. In this piece, we can see Howells’ vast understanding of the instrument, which is not surprising considering he was a great organist himself. Each of the several entries from the upper voices are equally as haunting, yet surprisingly lyrical. With a religious meaning behind the text, Howells takes advantage of the words and emphasises those of most importance, for example, at 1.40 where his repetition of ‘God’ clearly portrays his own appreciation and faith. Typical of Howells, the mood takes a complete turn at 4.28, and reflects the words, ‘a dream upon waking’ through mysterious and unexpected vocal harmonies. Not only is this an incredible piece of music to listen to, but singing it is extremely satisfying as well, (considering it's horrendously difficult!) Howells is definitely up there in my list of great British choral composers of the 19th and 20th century, along with Parry and Vaughan-Williams.

The Choir of Wells Cathedral, Somerset, under the direction of Malcolm Archer, perform Herbert Howell's setting of Robert Bridges' 1890 poem 'I Love All Beauteous Things.'

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