Howells wrote his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for New College, Oxford in 1949 immediately after finishing the Gloucester service which itself followed hard on the heels of Collegium Regale
. It is interesting to return to the issue of acoustics here in order to see how very differently Howells knew his music would sound in the comparatively ‘dry’ acoustic of the medieval Oxford chapel compared with the enormously reverberant Gloucester spaces. Howells makes a setting which has much less of the Impressionist flavour of the two earlier settings. It still has its moments of ecstasy—‘He remembering his mercy’ to ‘Abraham and his seed for ever’ is as spine-tingling as anything in the Gloucester and Collegium Regale
—but the heart of the matter is the totally different feeling engendered by acoustical properties. Similarly, the kind of mystical treble-voice meditations which begin both the Collegium Regale
and Gloucester settings would simply not work as effectively in New College. The result is a ‘new look’ setting which is wonderfully effective in its range and directness.
from notes by Paul Spicer © 2005