Herbert Howells is a composer as hard to classify as he is easy to recognize. Despite the influences apparent in his work—Tudor polyphony, the modality of his friend Vaughan Williams, the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel—his style remains individual: subtle and evocatively sensitive, it often has a melancholy flavour strangely akin to the blues. Church music formed an increasingly important part of his work, much of it written for specific cathedral or collegiate choirs. The present Nunc dimittis
(which, being in Latin, was intended for the Catholic office of Compline rather than for Anglican Evensong) was written for the choir of Westminster Cathedral. The organist, R.R. Terry, who had been introduced to the work of the young Howells by Stanford, invited Howells and three other composers to write settings of the Nunc dimittis
for double choir, all to be performed during Holy Week 1914. Howells’ setting was not published at the time and, after Terry’s retirement in 1924, was forgotten until after the composer’s death, when a manuscript came to light, leading to publication in 1989. The music is altogether remarkable. Richly laid out for double choir, it was perfectly calculated for the very reverberant acoustic of the (in 1914) almost brand-new cathedral. Its modal, slightly neo-Tudor idiom might suggest the influence of Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor (also for unaccompanied double choir and written for Westminster Cathedral); but the Mass was not written until eight years later.
from notes by Collegium Records © 1997