Herbert Howells (1892–1983) was a leading figure in the English Musical Renaissance, a movement that bridged the late 19th and early 20th centuries and saw composers seeking to forge a new path for English music. Many of Howells’ compositions are written in the form of a rhapsody. It is worth noting that he lived through both world wars, and wrote various works during the conflicts, including those on this recording. In such an unstable geopolitical context, it is perhaps unsurprising that English composers sought new forms of expression that were not tied to traditional German models like sonata form. The rhapsody, with the formal and expressive freedom it afforded, provided fertile ground for expressing the complexity and tragedy of the 20th century.
The 3 Rhapsodies Op.17 were written in 1915 (number 1) and 1918 (the other two); although they can be defined as ‘youthful’works (Howells was 26 when he completed them), their harmonic language already offers glimpses of maturity.
Howells’ Preludio ‘Sine nomine’, composed in 1940 and published in 1953 in the collection 6 Pieces for Organ, combines the ancient and the modern. Like many of his contemporaries, Howells was fascinated by the English Renaissance and the Tudor period in particular, and this influence is clear in his compositional style. Master Tallis’s Testament is a set of variations based on a vaguely Renaissance-sounding melody: indeed, the Tallis in the title is none other than Thomas Tallis (c.1505–1585), one of the most important 16th-century British composers. Saraband ‘In Modo Elegiaco’, completed in September 1945, is notable from a harmonic perspective for its juxtaposition of triads with no direct relationship between them. This free idiom generates a feeling of sadness, associated with a sort of emotional transfiguration that immerses the listener in an impressive atmosphere of contemplation.
The three Psalm–Preludes Op.32 were written between 1915 and 1916, although they were not published until 1932. They form part of Howells’ rhapsodic repertoire but, unlike the 3 Rhapsodies Op.17, these are inspired by the words of a few select psalms: Psalm 34:6 for the first, Psalm 37:11 for the second, and Psalm 23:4 for the third.
- Recorded March 2022 at the Lewis organ (1911) in Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII (Bergamo), Italy
- Bilingual booklet in English and Italian contains liner notes by Giulio Gelsomino on the composer and the works, a description of the instrument and a profile of the organist
- Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was an exponent of the so-called English musical Renaissance, a historical period between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, which saw composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Charles Villiers Stanford, engaged in charting a new path in English music. A path marked by tradition and, at the same time, by a freer use of musical language. Where their contemporaries focused on serialism, aleatoriness, electronic music and other techniques typical of the 20th century, they preferred to find new ways of using the tonal and modal system, thus succeeding in creating a style that was framed in tradition but at the same time original and immediately recognizable.
- Howells’ organ works, spanning a range of styles and moods, showcase his profound understanding of the instrument's capabilities. His compositions often intertwine rich harmonies, intricate counterpoint, and a deep sense of spirituality, reflecting both his personal experiences and the broader cultural context of his time.
- This new recording presents 3 Rhapsodies, 3 Psalm-Preludes and 3 Pieces for Organ, played on the Lewis (1911) organ, Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII (BG), Italy.
- Adriano Falcioni’s recordings for Brilliant Classics encompass many of the Romantic era’s most celebrated organ composers. Praise in Fanfare for his previous albums: ‘Falcioni clearly has the right feel for this repertoire, in tempos and registrations and ability to bind together phrases and sections into coherent larger wholes’ (Reger, 95075). ‘A top contender… Everything is idiomatically played by Adriano Falcioni on a fine instrument… Strongly recommended’ (Brahms, 94460). Further praise for the Reger album, recorded on the same organ as the present set of Liszt, came from the Italian Organ Compendium: ‘Highly recommended to our readers, who will find an excellent repertoire, a very good interpreter and an instrument of great interest.’