In the latter part of his career, Howells became very much associated with church music and it is true that in his choral output, sacred works greatly outnumber settings of secular poetry. But in this part-song to words by the Irish poet Bryan Guinness (of the brewing family and later Baron Moyne) he shows his mastery of word setting and choral texture. It is a miniature masterpiece. The title might lead us to expect something light and full of happy expectation, but the mood is actually dark and complex, full of a heavy and sorrowful sense of loss (‘Dark is the turf / And grey is the stone / And sad is the sky for the wild geese gone’). Howells wrote this song in memory of Arnold Bax and there is much about it that is elegiac. Consider too, that it was written around the same time that he was composing the large scale Stabat Mater
whose bleak pessimism was all bound up with thoughts about his long-dead son Michael, and the psychological background begins to crystallise. The word black recurs throughout the poem (blackthorn, black boats, black heifers) and Howells responds with sensuous bittersweet softly, sometimes sharply, dissonant harmony and sinuous and tonally ambiguous vocal lines. The composer’s biographer Paul Spicer has pointed out that Howells was a supreme creator of mood in his music and this is an outstanding example of mood evocation. The soprano monodies that open and close this wonderful piece catch the poem’s sense of restless, nostalgic longing perfectly. The summer is coming
was composed for the Cork International Festival of 1965.
from notes by Paul Andrews © 2010