Hyperion Records

King David
A close friend of Gurney and a fellow pupil (first of Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral, and later of Stanford), Herbert Howells warmed to his friend’s innate sensitivity to poetry and England’s Tudor legacy, and was moved to orchestrate two of the songs Gurney composed in the trenches during the First World War. King David was completed on 7 August 1919 and dedicated to the tenor John Coates. One of many settings Howells made of poetry by his friend Walter de la Mare, it reflected the composer’s enchantment with the movement of so-called ‘Georgian’ poets, established by the editions of Edward Marsh and Harold Monro of the Poetry Bookshop between 1911 and 1922. With some justification Howells considered King David one of his finest works. De la Mare’s narrative dimension is wonderfully realised in the tonal ‘journey’ from E flat minor, through its relative G flat major, to the second phase of the song framed by a glowing E major. Furthermore, Howells builds into his ‘scena’ (for its is surely larger than the traditional concept of a ‘song’) an impressive matrix of motivic associations, the most conspicuous of which are the progressions of ‘lament’ (iv9–I–iv9) in the opening bars, transformed and inverted in the E major phase (I–IV–I), and the melancholy utterance of the nightingale whose impassioned singing rings out exclusively in the upper register of the piano.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble 2001

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