Poems inspired by Herbert Howells

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) has long been a favourite composer of St Peter's Church. He was originally a chorister in a Gloucestershire parish church, but at the age of 12 he fell under the spell of Gloucester cathedral and its magnificent East Window. The window is well seen from the organ loft, where Howells was soon having lessons with Herbert Brewer. He was also enchanted by "the immemorial sound of voices" as he put it, heard in the wonderful acoustic of the cathedral. He went on to write some of the most beautiful and poignant choral and organ music of the twentieth century. Much of his greatest work sprang from the tragedy of the death of his nine year old son Michael, from meningitis.

On first hearing Herbert Howells' Nunc Dimittis of the Gloucester Service

'Lord...' in the voices of men, and
Sun, the eye of winter,
Breathing light and life
into the ashen face of Simeon,
Flooding with windowpatterned light
the columns of this cool and chiselled
forest of icy stone
Afloat with pure chill echoes
adrift on the air which flickers candle flames,
Which fans the organ's fiery blaze of reeds,
Sinking in brilliance...

and turn to the Light,
before gold turns to lead
and looming shadows,
Before candlewax be cooled
and the music books be closed,
and tracery soars into darkness and deepest silence...

Until the Light shall come again
in the white and the gold of the Morning
and a mighty Gloria emblazon the carven echoes...

Lord...breathe light and life
Into our wax and ashes!

A man that looks on glasse 

...a pillar of fire in my imagination...
(Herbert Howells on the Crécy Window in Gloucester Cathedral)

Light in his darkness fired that glassy wall,
Rib and lierne above the swell and fall
Of choir and organ. Here the Tudor tiles
Are patterned black with music; down the aisles
Of space and stone and sunshine rolls a deep pall
Of brooding harmony, to snuff out all
Light, till through thunderous gloom high voices call
Down pouring brilliance to hail the wild
Light beyond darkness!

Behind the clouded glass, beyond the squall,
Notes darken paper, harmonies enthrall,
Fierce light floods in; the grieving soul resiles
In depths of flowing music, reconciles
Itself to ink and counterpoint, recalls
Light to his darkness.

David Page

David Page was Deputy Organist at St Peter's from 1982 until 1993. This site also contains his personal reflections on the music of Herbert Howells.

Hear our choir sing Howells

We encourage the use of OGG VORBIS: a completely open and patent-free audio format which gives better quality than MP3. You can listen to OGG files with RealPlayer, WinAmp, Sonique or Zinf (FreeAmp) under Windows, and most players under Linux. Our recordings are provided in both OGG and MP3 formats.

Nunc Dimittis, Gloucester Service - Howells OGG | MP3
Gloria (Collegium Regale) - Howells OGG | MP3
Sanctus (Collegium Regale) - Howells OGG | MP3
Agnus Dei (Collegium Regale) - Howells OGG | MP3

Recording of Choral Evensong on 22nd February 2004: directed by Philip Collin.
Recording of Choral Eucharist on 3rd September 2000: directed by Andrew Teague.
Organ Michael Leuty.

Herbert Howells web site

Instrumental music: by Gary Daum

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 24th May 2003