2016-04-24 Notes from the Bench

“Collegium Regale” by Herbert Howells

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

The Mass setting for our fourth Sunday Choral Eucharist this month is from the “Collegium Regale” service by the twentieth-century English composer, organist, and teacher, Herbert Norman Howells (1892-1983). “Collegium Regale” is a set of service music composed for King’s College in Cambridge. The complete service includes the Morning Canticles, completed in 1944, the Evening Canticles for Evensong, completed in 1945, and the Communion service, completed in 1956. Howells developed a template in sound with thematic and harmonic elements carried over through each of the movements to give continuity to the entire set of service music. This work was initiated as the result of Howells winning a bet from the Dean of King’s College. King’s College is renown for its tradition of excellence in the field of Anglican sacred music; the chapel is noted for its splendid acoustics and their chapel choir with choral scholars and choristers is world-famous, singing for services, concert, recordings and live broadcasts. The annual Nine Lessons and Carols service held in the chapel is broadcast on the BBC and around the world to millions of radio listeners and television viewers.



Herbert Howells is famous for his large output of Anglican church music that include anthems and service music. In additional to his many choral works, Howells composed music for orchestra, chamber ensemble, organ, and piano. Howells was born in Lydney, Gloucerstershire. At an early age, Herbert demonstrated promise as a musician and expressed interest in composition. He began playing organ and a child and periodically substituted for his father who was an amateur organist who played for a local Baptist church. By the time Howells was 11 years old, he was singing as a choirboy for a local Anglican Church and assumed the duties of a deputy organist on an unofficial basis. He continued his organ studies with Herbert Brewer who was the organist of Gloucester Cathedral at that time. In 1912, he was accepted as a student of the Royal College of Music in London where he studied with Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry, and Charles Wood.

In 1920, Howells joined the staff of the Royal College of Music where he taught composition and remained there until 1979. In addition to his duties at the RCM, he was active as a competition adjudicator, the Director of Music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, and served as acting organist of St. John’s College, Cambridge from 1941 to 1945. King Edward VII appointed Howells a Professor of Music at London University in 1950. During his lifetime, Howells received a number of academic awards and honorary appointments including an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge, Companion of Honour, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), and Collard Life Fellowship (Worshipful Company of Musicians). He died in London at the age of 90.



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