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Herbert Howells


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Herbert Norman Howells CH, CBE (1892–1983) was an English composer, organist, and teacher, most famous for his large output of Anglican church music.

Howells was born pn the 17th October 1892 in Lydney, Gloucestershire, and was the youngest of six children. His father was an amateur organist, and Herbert showed early musical promise. He studied first with Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral, as an articled pupil alongside Ivor Novello and Ivor Gurney, the celebrated English songwriter and poet, with whom he became great friends. A September 1910 concert in Gloucester Cathedral included the premiere of a mysterious new work by the yet little-known Ralph Vaughan Williams. Howells not only made the composer’s personal acquaintance that evening, but (as he often recounted) the piece, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, profoundly moved him. Later he studied at the Royal College of Music under C.V. Stanford, Hubert Parry, and Charles Wood.

In 1915 he was diagnosed with Graves’ disease and given six months to live. Since doctors believed that it was worth taking a chance on a previously untested treatment, he became the first person in the country to receive radium treatment. He was briefly assistant organist at Salisbury Cathedral in 1917, though his severe illness cut this appointment short. Friends then arranged for a grant from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, under which Howells would assist Richard Runciman Terry in editing the voluminous Latin Tudor repertoire that he and his choir were reviving at Westminster Cathedral.


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