Sunday, 27 March 2016

Herbert Howells: Saraband (For the Morning of Easter)

The Saraband (For the Morning of Easter) was composed during May 1940.  It was issued in 1953 as the second number in ‘Six Pieces for Organ’. The entire volume was dedicated to the organist and composer Herbert Sumsion.  Howells wrote that ‘In 1940, after a severe illness, I found a new way of making use of convalescence. In those days and in that time, in sheer affection and admiration of Dr Herbert Sumsion of Gloucester, I wrote this set of six pieces, ending with a Paean.’ (Palmer, Herbert Howells: A Celebration, London, Thames Publishing, 1996)
Peter Hardwick in his study of British Organ Music of the Twentieth Century (Scarecrow Press, 2002) notes that the Saraband (For the Morning of Easter) is written in the form of a ‘Baroque stylized saraband.’ He explains that all the ‘ancient dance’s characteristics are present’ including the slow majestic triple metre, accented first and second beats, regular four bar phrases and a melody characterised by considerable written out ornamentation. Unlike traditional sarabands, this is written in ternary form (ABA) rather than the more traditional binary (AB). The chords are dense, giving the work a power and strength.

William Sutton (Musical Times, February 1971) has described the Saraband (For the Morning of Easter) as deserving special mention: it is a ‘work of compelling intensity and power, an ecstatic vision of the first Easter Morning.’ He notes the ‘virile discords resolving in chains on to orthodox and judiciously placed triads.’
Christopher Palmer (Herbert Howells, Novello, 1978) notes that ‘it is typical of Howells that he should have elected to express the awe and wonderment of the Resurrection within the confines of a stylised dance-form – a distancing element, certainly, but in this case ‘’tis distance lends enchantment.’ 
The review of the sheet music (Notes, December 1954) considers that these Six Pieces can be classified as 'Anglicized Impressionism' (perhaps nodding too Durufle’s work in France) and considered that they represent ‘contemporary English organ music at its conservative best.’
The ‘Six Pieces’ include Preludio ‘Sine Nomine’; Saraband (For the Morning of Easter); Master Tallis’s Testament; Fugue, Chorale an Epilogue; Saraband (In Modo Elegiaco) and Paean. These can be used individually or as a series, played in the order presented by the composer. There is sufficient unity and variety in these pieces to allow them to be heard at a sitting.

An excellent recording of Herbert Howells: Saraband (For the Morning of Easter) can be heard on Priory PRCD 524, with Graham Barber playing the organ at Hereford Cathedral.  There are a couple of recordings uploaded to YouTube, including one from Smolny Cathedral St Peteresbug played by Mikhail Mishchenko.

1 comment:

Nickalong said...

For comparison you may wish to listen to the versions available in Spotify. There seem to be 3 different ones. Spotify search facilities, particularly for classical music, are a little restricted, but putting the two words 'Howells Saraband' into the search box (without quotes) yielded good results.

I normally really like Howells but I must say I found this a bit ponderous and overbearing, though the versions do differ substantially.