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Hyperion Records

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Photograph of Gloucester Cathedral, known as 'The Lighthouse in the Vale' by Sydney A Pitcher
Reproduced by kind permission of Gloucestershire County Council
Track(s) taken from CDH55220
Recording details: February 1983
St Alban's Church, Holborn, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: March 1987
Total duration: 8 minutes 55 seconds

'A moving and impressive addition to the a cappella repertoire' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The Corydon Singers are superb in this music … truly exquisite and subtle; this is wonderful choral singing in every way' (American Record Guide)

'An hour of the finest English choral music and not to be missed' (The Good CD Guide)

'Beautiful' (Hi-Fi News)

'One of the most luminous and touching of 20th-century Requiem settings' (

Take him, earth, for cherishing
1961; American commission on the assassination of President Kennedy; first performed in Washington on 22 November 1964
author of text
Hymnus circa Exsequias Defuncti
translator of text
Medieval Latin Lyrics, London, 1929

Other recordings available for download
Trinity College Choir Cambridge, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Westminster Abbey Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)   NEW
St Paul's Cathedral Choir, John Scott (conductor), Christopher Dearnley (organ)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In his own sleeve note to the 1967 recording by King’s College Choir of Take him, earth, for cherishing Howells wrote: ‘Within the year following the tragic death of President Kennedy in Texas plans were made for a dual American-Canadian Memorial Service to be held in Washington. I was asked to compose an a cappella work for the commemoration. The text was mine to choose, Biblical or other. Choice was settled when I recalled a poem by Prudentius (AD 348–413). I had already set it in its medieval Latin years earlier, as a study for Hymnus Paradisi. But now I used none of that unpublished setting. Instead I turned to Helen Waddell’s faultless translation […] Here was the perfect text—the Prudentius ‘Hymnus circa exsequias defuncti’.’

So far, so objective, but this cool, elegant account scarcely begins to probe Howells’ long relationship with a text that was intimately bound up with the life and death of his son, Michael. Howells’ setting of the Latin, dating from around 1932, is an incomplete fragment. When, after a period in which he found himself unable to work following Michael’s death in 1935, Howells was moved to compose a work in the boy’s memory, he drew on an existing Requiem for unaccompanied voices in planning what was to become his masterpiece, Hymnus Paradisi. He intended that it should include a setting of Prudentius’ words of mourning and consolation until a very late stage in the process of composition, but in the end they did not find a place in Hymnus. Nevertheless, this text was often in his mind. In May 1958 he wrote in his diary: ‘Rain and Gloom. But the rain turned away with a sheer beauty of light. Prudentius’ ‘Hymnus Circa Exsequias Defuncti’ kept my mind in safe refuge—as once it did in Sept. 1935 for love of Michael.’

Thoughts of his son’s death were never far away and these beautiful words were there waiting to be set. Is it too fanciful to suggest that in responding to the shock that the whole world felt at the assassination of John Kennedy, a young man in whom much hope for the future had been invested, Howells found the motivation for what must surely be another memorial for Michael?

from notes by Paul Andrews © 2012

Other albums featuring this work
'Music for Remembrance' (CDA68020)
Music for Remembrance
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 88.2 kHz £12.00ALAC 24-bit 88.2 kHz £12.00 CDA68020  NEW   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Howells: Requiem & other choral works' (CDA67914)
Howells: Requiem & other choral works
'Howells: St Paul's Service & other works' (CDA66260)
Howells: St Paul's Service & other works

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