In his collection of musical cameos, Howells’ Clavichord
, of the 1950s, Howells included one musical gift to Patrick Hadley (‘Patrick’s Siciliano’) and two to Ralph Vaughan Williams (‘Ralph’s Pavane’ and ‘Ralph’s Galliard’). Vaughan Williams’s music had been one of the most important early influences on Howells, as is apparent in the latter’s Regina caeli
. The seventeen-year-old Howells had been deeply struck by the premiere of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis
in Gloucester Cathedral in 1910: ‘I was moved deeply. I think if I had to isolate from the rest any one impression of a purely musical sort that mattered most to me in the whole of my life as a musician, it would be the hearing of that work.’ Howells was also to comment that ‘Ralph and I felt and reacted to things musically in a very similar way, and if some of our works are alike in any respect, it’s not, I think, merely a question of influence but also of intuitive affinity.’ As Howells notes, part of that affinity lay in both composers’ fascination with the modes, and modal writing strongly characterises the chant-like soloists’ lines in Vaughan Williams’s motet The souls of the righteous
, composed for the dedication service of the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey in 1947. After a chant-like opening sung by soprano soloist and then choir, the repeated words ‘but they are in peace’ are quietly highlighted through telling harmonic shifts, while the Lydian mode is used to give brightness to the triumphant cascading peals opening the final section at ‘For God proved them’.
from notes by Owen Rees © 2018