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Lambert's Clavichord, Op 41


The inspiration for Lambert’s Clavichord came from the harpsichord- and clavichord-maker Herbert Lambert of Bath. Lambert was an unusual man who was also a highly gifted photographer, famous for photographing England’s leading musicians. Howells described him as having ‘a genius for photography, and for friendship. Also, he had the skill and passion to make harpsichords and clavichords, and did so, when he wasn’t photographing the famous people who delighted in being his subjects.’ Howells went on: ‘In the summer of 1927 he lent me a clavichord – an entrancing instrument. I gave up a holiday, remaining in London with it. The only way to thank Lambert was to write a work for him. So I did ‘Lambert’s Fireside’ – actually written by his own fireside on the hills outside Bath.’

Howells, writing a note for the BBC in 1940, went on to say that he had added eleven other pieces, each named after a friend.

So there came into the book ‘Fellowes’s Delight’ (for Dr E H Fellowes, the great madrigal authority), ‘Hughes’s Ballet’ (for the Irish composer-critic), ‘Samuel’s Air’ (for Harold Samuel, pianist), ‘De la Mare’s Pavane’ (for Walter de la Mare, the poet); ‘Sir Hugh’s Galliard’ concerns Sir Hugh Allen, Professor of Music in Oxford University; ‘Sargent’s Fantastic Sprite’ is for Dr Malcolm Sargent, conductor; and ‘Foss’s Dump’ for Hubert Foss of the Oxford Press. ‘My Lord Sandwich’s Dreame’ is for the Earl of Sandwich – poet as well as Peer of the Realm. H E Wortham (most famous now as ‘Peterborough’ of London’s Daily Telegraph) has ‘Wortham’s Grounde’; and ‘Sir Richard’s Toye’ was for Sir Richard Terry of Westminster Cathedral fame.

After Lambert’s early death his work was continued by Thomas Goff (the dedicatee of the later Howells’ Clavichord). Howells wished to commemorate Lambert’s life and work in a ‘garland’ of tributes consisting of a series of twelve pieces written by composers who had been photographed by him. All who were approached agreed, but in the event none put pen to paper. Howells therefore decided to write the whole collection himself.

Tributes following the composition of this work were many and fulsome. Walter de la Mare wrote that ‘it was a quite unexpected joy that awaited me inside the package’. John Gardner wrote of ‘De la Mare’s Pavane’ (always the most popular piece of the set): ‘I was absolutely spellbound by it & have had its stately, sad & tender first phrase running thro’ my head for the past hour. A gem if ever there was one, & proof t., granted the genius & skill, artificial rubies are a possibility!’

Sir Richard Terry writing in The Queen (7 November 1928) made the most searching observations when he wrote:

Sooner or later it was bound to come that some modern English composer would set himself or herself to write music for these resuscitated instruments of the past. The danger would have been considerable, had the first attempts been mere imitations of the old idiom.
Luckily the first attempt has been made by one whose creative musicianship cannot be called into question; whose sympathy with both the Tudor instruments and Tudor composers is undeniable, and above all it has been made by one who is content (out of the plenitude of his critical knowledge of Tudor music) to reproduce the spirit of the old music rather than to give us a mere reproduction of its mannerisms or a repetition of its cliches.
Mr Howells has absorbed all the wealth and variety of Tudor rhythms, but keeps his own individuality intact. His music is modern inasmuch as he uses chords and progressions unknown in Tudor times, but the spirit of the old composers is there all the while. In other words, he and his instruments are one.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 1994


Howells: Lambert's Clavichord & Howells' Clavichord


No 01: Lambert’s Fireside
No 02: Fellowes's Delight
No 03: Hughes's Ballet
No 04: Wortham's Grounde
No 05: Sargent's Fantastic Sprite
No 06: Foss's Dump
No 07: My Lord Sandwich's Dreame
No 08: Samuel's Air
No 09: De la Mare's Pavane
No 10: Sir Hugh's Galliard
No 11: HH His Fancy
No 12: Sir Richard's Toye

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