Howells’s unique contribution to the music of the Anglican Church began in earnest in 1944 when he won a bet (one guinea!) from the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, which provided the College choir with a new setting of the Te Deum. This laid down a template in sound which was to see cathedral organists queuing up to secure their own piece of Howells. The Collegium Regale
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis have rightly become the most celebrated settings of the twentieth century. They follow Howells’s stated feelings to the letter: ‘… if I made a setting of the Magnificat, the mighty should be put down from their seat without a brute force which would deny this canticle’s feminine association. Equally, that in the Nunc dimittis, the tenor’s domination should characterize the gentle Simeon. Only the Gloria should raise its voice.’ The Magnificat opens with upper voices (suitably representing Mary) singing in an almost recitative-like way. The altos are scored to enrich the texture at ‘For behold, from henceforth’, and the tenors and basses only join at ‘He hath shewn strength with his arm’. The ‘Gloria’, surely amongst the most ecstatic utterances we possess, does indeed raise its voice in the manner of a true doxology.
from notes by Paul Spicer © 2005