Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Often, out of great suffering and deep need, incredible beauty is born. This was certainly the case with Herbert Howells (1892-1983): he surmounted poverty and social rejection early on in life, struggled with debilitating illness, and personal and national tragedies, from the death of his son to both World Wars. In the vast choral repertoire of the twentieth century, the music of Howells stands apart, unmatched in its complexion of color and expressivity, and unfailing in its ability to move hearts. The work he left behind radiates his love for the craft, as stated in an interview with BBC Radio 3 (1967), “I love music as a man can love a woman . . . I have written really, to put it simply, the music I would like to write and for no other reason.”
In a letter to Dr. Guest who had commissioned his friend for a work to honor the 450th Anniversary of Saint John’s in Cambridge.
‘My dear George, I’ve been slow to answer your letter: and I’m the world’s slowest composer, and my honoured Publishers the slowest in Christendom (if C. includes Soho!). But if it comes to writing a new anthem or motet for beloved Saint John’s College—I’d love to: if there’s time. There will be, I expect. Anyway, tell whomsoever it may concern there’s no question of my being commissioned. I’ll do it for love, or not at all. . . . Yours ever,— Herbert.’