Howells’ Gloucester evensong setting

At our next evensong, 5pm Saturday 12 August, to be accompanied by our international visiting organist Thomas Trotter, we will be singing Howell’s Gloucester setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. 

Howells was born in the town of Lydney in Gloucestershire and learnt the organ from Herbert Brewer in Gloucester Cathedral. He first heard Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on a theme by Thomas Tallis in Gloucester Cathedral at the 1910 Three Choirs Festival. In Sophie Cleobury’s words ‘Howells was overwhelmed by its beauty and the effective use Vaughan Williams made of the acoustic of Gloucester Cathedral.’ Howells himself referred to the occasion as the single most significant musical experience of his life. 

It is well-known that Howells often wrote church music with a particular building’s acoustic in mind, and this was never more so than in the case of the Gloucester setting, in which the intertwining soprano lines ‘For behold, from henceforth’ and the soaring top A in ‘As it was in the beginning’ make full use of Gloucester’s rich, resonant – yet immediate – acoustic. 

In 2018 we were extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to sing the Howells Gloucester service in Gloucester Cathedral (the photos show our arrival and rehearsal). 

Come along to our next evensong to hear the music of one of England’s greatest composers, accompanied by one of Britain’s most acclaimed organists. 

Source: Sophie Cleobury, 2007, The style and development of Herbert Howells’ evening canticle settings, 1918-1975, Masters Thesis, University of Birmingham 

Photos: Chris Bridge, Lisa Catinari, Louise McGee

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