Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Herbert Howells: The 'Missing' Recordings of the Orchestral Works

In 1974 the only orchestral work by Herbert Howells available on LP was his Concerto for string orchestra. It had been issued on the EMI label (ASD 3020) and featured the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. The other work on this disc was Sir Arthur Bliss’s rare Music for Strings.
The following year four short pieces were released on Lyrita SRCS 69: it was a superb, if somewhat tantalising LP. This included the heart-achingly beautiful Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra, Merry-Eye for small orchestra and Music for a Prince –‘Corydon’s Dance’ and ‘Scherzo in Arden’.  Sir Adrian Boult conducted the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London. At that time, most British music enthusiasts would typically have regarded Howells as a ‘church’ composer, writing fine settings of the canticles and Eucharist services as well as many pieces for the organ. He was also remembered for his choral work Hymnus Paradisi which had appeared in 1971 on the HMV label (ASD 2600) featuring Heather Harper, Robert Tear, The Bach Choir, King’s College Choir Cambridge and the New Philharmonia Orchestra all conducted by David Willcocks.  

In 1992 Hyperion (CDA66610) issued a ground-breaking disc of Howells’ Second Piano Concerto (1925) played by Kathryn Stott and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley. This CD included the Three Dances for violin and orchestra as well as the Concerto for String Orchestra. In the mid nineteen-nineties Chandos began to release a wide survey of Howells orchestral and ‘concerted music. Most of the remaining works were issued including some rarities, such as the delightful ballet score Penguiniski.

I was reading through the list of orchestral works included in Christopher Palmer’s book HH: A Celebration (Thames Publishing, 1996) the other day, and was mentally checking off each of the listed works against the CDs and records in my collection. I was surprised that there were a number of omissions, so I collated the list against Michael Herman’s listings on MusicWeb International and the Arkiv music database. There are a number of works that have not been recorded (and some that never will be). A few additional pieces are noted in the recently published The Music of Herbert Howells (The Boydell Press, 2013).

The following works are not currently available on CD or download:-
Overture – this was compose in 1910-11.  Unpublished and manuscript missing.
Puck’s Minuet for small orchestra, Op.20, No.1. This was composed in 1917 and was published by Goodwin & Tabb the following year.  Op.20, No.2 is Merry-Eye for small orchestra which has been recorded.
Suite for string orchestra, Op.27.  This suite was composed during May-June 1917. It was unpublished. The first movement of this work was reused as the first movement of the Concerto for String Orchestra (1938).  The middle movement was apparently reworked into the Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra. The third movement has been edited by Christopher Palmer, published and recorded on Chandos as Serenade for Strings.  
Symphony in D major – this work is incomplete. The manuscript is extant.
Thé Dansant – a movement from A Dance Suite for Toy Orchestra, composed in 1919 as a joint effort with W.H. Harris, Richard H. Walthew, Harold Darke and Henry Walford Davies. The work was never published and the manuscript is missing.
Mother’s Hare – this was incidental music for a play written by Claude Aveling. The score was a joint enterprise by Howells and Gordon Jacob for the 1929 Royal College of Music ‘At Home’ concert. Once again, it was unpublished and the holograph has been lost.
Tanz’s Music – this was a contribution to ‘A Grand Private Full Dress Concert Rehearsal Performance’ for the RCM Union ‘At Home’ in 1931. Unpublished and manuscript missing.
‘Finale’ for cello and orchestra – this work is incomplete. The manuscript is extant.
‘Suite’ for string orchestra – Composed in 1940 for the St. Paul’s Girls School Orchestra. Unpublished and manuscript missing. (Palmer, 1996 suggests that sketches for this work exist)
Folk Tune Set for small orchestra – was composed in 1940. There were three movements: - ‘Triumph Tune’, ‘The Tune of St Louis of France’ and ‘The Old Mole.’ The work is unpublished, however the manuscript is extant.
Second Suite for String Orchestra – composed in 1942. Unpublished and manuscript missing.
Concerto for organ and strings – composed between 1942-45. MS incomplete.
Fanfare for Schools – composed in 1943. Unpublished, but manuscript extant.
Fanfare on ‘Michael’ for brass, organ and percussion.  This work was largely composed in 1970, however it was left incomplete. Christopher Palmer supplied and ending and the work was performed in Westminster Abbey on 16 November 1992. It is published by Novello, I was unable to find any recording of this piece.
Fanfare to lead into the National Anthem for brass, percussion and organ –composed in 1977 for the 250th Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester. The score is still in manuscript.

An analysis of this list shows that the only credible recording project would be Puck’s Minuet and the ‘Folk Tune Set’. The fanfares would be very much on the wish-list of an absolute ‘completest’, yet these are largely ephemeral works that would be heard divorced from their raison d’être. The other works are either lost or incomplete.
Finally, there was a recording of Puck’s Minuet made in 1925 and released on Vocalion X.9571. As I understand it, this is not available in any format, either online or CD.
John France January 2014 ©


Anonymous said...

There are plans to record Puck's Minuet alongside Merry-Eye and Jonathan Clinch's completion of the Cello Concerto quite soon I think.

Andrew Millinger said...

This is correct. The recording should take place mid-2014.

Andrew Millinger, Secretary, Herbert Howells Society

Paul Andrews said...

The Folk Tune Set composed in 1941 for the BBC Salon orchestra, a band made up of those musicians left after conscription had taken its toll of the BBC's orchestras, is worth disinterring. The material is held at Ernest Tomlinson's Light Music Collection. He rescued the Salon Orchestra's scores and parts which the Corporation were about to consign to oblivion many years ago. And although not strictly orchestral works, that leaves the string quartets, Lady Audrey's Suite and the earlier of the two versions of In Gloucestershire still to be revived.

Unknown said...

I want to get hold of recordings made by the BBC Salon Orchestra, as my grandfather was a member. Any suggestions where to start? Thanks

John France said...

Suggest the CHARM webiste below

John France said...

Or possibly WorldCat or COPAC