The catalyst for The fear of the Lord
, a setting of words from Ecclesiasticus, one of the apocryphal books of the Bible, seems to have been a service of choral evensong in the chapel of Clare College, Cambridge, on 23 May 1976, when the music sung by the choir under its director John Rutter was exclusively by Howells. The composer attended and afterwards noted in his diary his delight at a ‘wonderful evensong’. This occasion clearly sparked a desire to write music specifically for the choir that had so impressed him, because a few days later, on 6 June, he wrote in his diary that he ‘began anthem for Clare College’. The fear of the Lord
was completed by mid-September and was sung for the first time in the College Chapel on 30 October. Howells’ late choral style—fearsome on the page, but perhaps less so in performance—is much in evidence here too. The optimism and hope expressed in this valedictory text seems to have inspired a man who in a long life had suffered the death of those closest to him, and was now perhaps anticipating his own ‘happy end’.
from notes by Paul Andrews © 2011