Preces and Responses (1967) are late Howells, written for the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral and its Director Allan Wicks, a great advocate of contemporary music. The Preces and Responses are a series of short prayers, alternating between the officiant and the choir, used twice a day in the Anglican Church in the services of Matins and Evensong. The short fragments of text are based on, or at least resemble, verses of psalms—one of the oldest forms of Jewish, Old Testament prayer. Though Howells wrote twenty settings of the Evening Canticles, also sung daily at Evensong, he wrote only one set of Responses. Most settings of the Responses, from Tallis to Radcliffe, assign just one note to each syllable. Howells, however, is much more expansive. The parts for Cantor and Choir dovetail into one another harmonically, sometimes even overlapping, creating a sense of long unbroken paragraphs rather than separate pithy sentences.
from notes by Andrew Nethsingha © 2021