Herbert’s Howells is well-known to most listeners for his organ music and liturgical works. Both these genres are played or sung daily in ‘choirs and places where they sing.’ His orchestral and chamber music has gained some traction in recent years, with most of this repertoire having been recorded, if not regularly heard in the concert hall and recital room. On the other hand, Howells’ music for piano and clavichord remains relatively unknown.
In 1994 John McCabe issued a recording of Lambert’s and Howell’s Clavichord on the Hyperion label (CDH55152). On this CD, the music was played on the piano. It is a ‘masterclass’ and provides a definitive performance. I have enjoyed it ever since.
The liner notes point out that Ruth Dyson (1917-1997) recorded Lambert’s Clavichord and selected numbers from Howell’s Clavichord on a long-playing record (Wealden WS 194). This was released as part of the Howell’s 90th birthday celebrations. It will only be available to collectors. In 2002, John Paul issued a CD of both works played on a ‘lute harpsichord’ (Centaur Records, 2536). I have not heard either of these two recordings.
The thirty-two miniature pieces that are heard on this new double CD performed by Julian Perkins are sourced from two volumes of music Howells composed for clavichord. The first album was entitled Lambert’s Clavichord, op.41. I used to think that this had been written in appreciation of the English conductor and composer Constant Lambert (1905-51): how wrong can I have been? It refers to Herbert Lambert (1882-1936) of Bath, Somerset, who was a photographer and amateur maker of harpsichords and clavichords. In 1927, he lent Herbert Howells a clavichord and was rewarded with the present work. Thirty-four years later (1961) a subsequent collection appeared. This was Howell’s Clavichord which was published in two books, each containing 10 pieces. It was dedicated to Thomas Goff (1898-1975), who was an assistant to Herbert Lambert.
Lambert’s Clavichord opens with a personal tribute to Herbert Lambert – ‘Lambert’s Fireside’, echoing memories of his house outside Bath. Each of the following pieces are named after friends of the composer. These include:
‘Fellowes’ Delight’: Dr E H Fellowes, expert on madrigals.
‘Hughes’ Ballet’: Herbert Hughes, Irish Composer and musicologist.
‘Wortham’s Grounde’: H E Wortham, latterly ‘Peterborough’, columnist at the Daily Telegraph.
‘Sargent’s Fantastic Sprite’: Dr Malcolm Sargent, conductor.
‘Foss’s Dump’: Hubert Foss, Oxford University Press.
‘My Lord Sandwich’s Dreame’: Earl of Sandwich, poet and peer of the realm.
‘Samuel’s Air: Harold Samuel, pianist.
‘De la Mare’s Pavane’: Walter de la Mare, poet and author.
‘Sir Hugh’s Galliard’: Sir Hugh Allen, Professor of Music at Oxford University.
‘H.H. His Fancy’: the composer!
‘Sir Richard’s Toye’: Sir Richard Terry, organist, choir director and musicologist.
In like manner, the score of pieces included in Howell’s Clavichord (Book1) opens with a piece recalling ‘Goff’s Fireside’. Other numbers were:
‘Patrick’s Siciliano’: Patrick Hadley, composer and scholar.
‘Jacob’s Brawl’: Gordon Jacob, composer and teacher of music.
‘Dart’s Saraband’: Thurston Dart, scholar and teacher.
‘Arnold’s Antic’: Malcolm Arnold, composer.
‘Andrews’ Air’: H.K. Andrews, scholar and teacher, author of An Introduction to the Technique of Palestrina.
‘Boult’s Brangill’: Sir Adrian Boult, conductor.
‘Rubbra’s Soliloquy’: Edmund Rubbra, composer and teacher.
‘Newman’s Flight’: Maxwell Herman Alexander "Max" Newman, mathematician and code breaker during the Second World War.
‘Dyson’s Delight’: Sir George Dyson, composer, teacher and Director of the Royal College of Music.
Book two of Howell’s Clavichord features:
‘E.B.’s Fanfarando’: Sir Ernest Bullock, organist, composer, teacher and Director of the Royal College of Music.
‘Ralph’s Pavane’: Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer.
‘Ralph’s Galliard’: Ralph Vaughan Williams.
‘Finzi’s Rest’: Gerald Finzi, composer.
‘Berkeley’s Hunt’: Lennox Berkeley, composer.
‘Malcolm’s Vision’: George Malcolm, conductor and harpsichordist.
‘Bliss’s Ballet’: Arthur Bliss, composer.
‘Julian’s Dream’: Julian Bream, lutenist and guitarist.
‘Jacques’s Mask’: Reginald Jacques conductor, teacher and director of the London Bach Choir.
‘Walton’s Toye’: Sir William Walton, composer.
The volumes were inspired by Tudor dance music as exemplified in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and composers such as William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons, John Bull and Giles Farnaby. Much influenced by music of this period, Howells brought his own, more modern sounding musical idiom into the scheme. The result is neither pastiche nor parody: it is a synthesis of old and new that is near-perfect in its result.
There is a difference between the two sets of pieces: Howell’s Clavichord tends to ‘be more discursive and involute [intricate] than [Lambert’s Clavichord] …and are more directly relevant to those of their dedicatees who are composers.’ (Palmer, Christopher, Herbert Howells: A Study, Novello, 1978). In fact, there are several direct quotations from Howell’s composer friends’ works.
Julian Perkins playing is exemplary. It is subtle, often exciting, nuanced and perfectly balanced. Andrew Mayes has provided a detailed, dissertation-length study and analysis of these three ‘albums’. There is also an important discussion by Peter Bavington of the two instruments used in this present recording. It was a Dolmetsch (1925) clavichord for Lambert’s Clavichord and one by Bavington (2015) for Howell’s Clavichord. Two pieces, ‘Goff’s Fireside’ and ‘Patrick’s Siciliano’ are played here on a Thomas Goff clavichord, made in 1952.
Julian Perkins has provided a ‘performers perspective’ of the instruments, and an apology as to why clavichords by Lambert or Goff has not been (generally) used. There is also a ‘warning’ about the difficulty in recording such a delicate and elusive instrument as the clavichord: expect to hear noise from the action.
Finally, the obvious (but hard) question. Which version is to be preferred? I have no answer, save to make two points. Firstly, Herbert Howells believed that they were effective for either piano or clavichord. They work perfectly well in either medium. And secondly, allowing for Howell’s enthusiasm for all things Tudor, it is essential that the recorded repertoire supports such a splendid version as this for clavichord. So the answer has to be – purchase both versions.
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Lambert’s Clavichord, op.41 (HH 165) (1927)
Howell’s Clavichord Book 1 & Book 2 (HH 237) (1961)
Julian Perkins (clavichord)
Rec. Fenton House, Hampstead, London 8 March 2016 (Lambert’s Clavichord); Willey Place Farnham, Surrey, 22-23 August 2016 (Howell’s Clavichord);
PRIMIE FACIE PFCD 065/66