Monday, 2 February 2009

Dorothy Howell: The Moorings for Violin & Piano

It is sad that Dorothy Howell’s music is so little known to the general musical public. And the lack of recordings and performances do not help to increase her standing. At present there is only one disc devoted to her music – the Chamber Music CD from Dutton Epoch. Even the Dorothy Howell Trust which is presumably charged with the preservation and promotion of her music does not appear to have a web site or an email address.
Yet Howell was quite a prolific composer and went considerably beyond the chamber works so well explored on the CD. In fact there is a Piano Concerto, an orchestral tone poem Lamia, championed by Sir Henry Wood, a symphonic piece called Three Divertissements and a ballet Koong Shee (1923) I first came across her music many years ago when I found a copy of her piano Pieces For the Bairns. Strangely this is not easy or simple music and requires a sympathetic and mature technique to bring them off. The title is misleading.

I was recently listening to The Moorings, which surely must be one of Howell’s most attractive miniatures. The work was originally published by Augener in 1925 for ‘cello and piano although it was soon issued as an arrangement for violin and piano.
Celia Patterson, writing in the sleeve notes of the CD, suggests that much of the composer’s music was “inspired by nature and landscape” and felt that The Moorings was a good example of this art.

The piece is some five minutes long and has a sound-world not far removed from Cyril Scott or perhaps even Debussy. For all its ‘waterscape painting’ and musical description of the “gentle ebb and flow of the shallows” in the melodic and rhythmic devices she uses, this work is hardly a piece of salon music. The language is sophisticated, lyrical and surprisingly modern without nodding to any particular school of composition. It is a fine, short introduction to the music of this largely forgotten composer.

Jill Hopkins writing in the Worcestershire News states that “The Moorings, [is] the most beautiful composition [on this CD]. It is quiet and thoughtful, the violin pensive in its lower registers, and piano offering short rippling phrases.” The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music suggests that although “no strong personality emerges, she is a composer of distinct culture…” They consider that her Violin Sonata, the Phantasy and the Piano Studies are “well worth saving from virtual oblivion.”
I would suggest that if we could hear more of her music, her personality may well assert itself.

Listen to Lorraine McAslan and Sophia Rahman playing this work on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7144


Anonymous said...

I can assure you that Miss Howell had a very big personality! I was lucky enough to be taught the piano by her when she was well into her 80s. in fact, she left her vast house to move into a retirement home the very month I left for University. She was quite unique - her technique was fantastic, but, more to the point, everything was about the music. She was a pupil of Tobias Matthay, and that came through in everythng she did. Her lessons - from obligatory tea and soggy biscuits 'because you cannot learn without talking first', over which she would tell be about her relationship with Henry Wood, always with an alarming twinkle in her eye!, right through to leaving the house some considerable time later, were an absolute joy. It is thirty years since my last piano lesson with ehr and I miss her still. Go tho the Proms on Spetmebr 5th and hear 'Lamia' !

John France said...

I would love to have an exchange of mails with you about DH if you are prepared to contact me on

roz said...

I was fortunate enough to hear the recording of Howell's 'Lamia' a few years ago whilst researching her life and music. An excellent work.
I also would be most interested to hear more of your experiences of her.

John France said...

Thanks for that, but I would be grateful if you could get in touch with my email:-

I would like to ask you a few questions about DH. I feel the comments box on a blog is not really the best place for that conversation!
It all sounds v. interesting!


John F

Mike said...

Dorothy Howell's Piano Concerto will be performed in public for the first time in over 70 odd years as part of a Remembrance & Revival concert with the Orion Symphony Orchestra at London's Cadagon Hall on 11th November 2010 (Remembrance Day itself!).

The soloist will be the outstanding Bulgarian- British concert pianist Valentina Seferinova.

See for fuller details.

A little birdie tells me that there are plans under way to have the whole concert recorded for video &/or CD release!!??