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Herbert Howells

Publisher: Novello & Co

God be in my head (1966)
Work Notes
ed. Patrick Russill
Text Writer
Richard Pynson’s Horace BVM, 1514
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus a cappella / + 1 instrument
Year Composed
1 Minutes
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Programme Note
Herbert Howells God be in my head (1966)

The unique source is a pencil autograph in the possession of Christopher Eaton Smith, to whom grateful acknowledgements are due. He recalls the piece was “written by Dr Howells in some spare minutes before the end of a theory lesson at the Royal College of Music in June 1966, following a ‘rather fair’ attempt at the same words by me!”.

The underlay from b. 13 to the end is editorial. In the source bb. 13-15 lack text and bb. 16-17 are erroneously set to ‘keeping’: whatever words Howells had in mind were evidently one syllable less than the correct text. An alternative solution could be to split the semibreve in b.15 and for all to follow the soprano underlay. The F sharp in b. 5 is unclear and could possibly be a cautionary natural. The autograph has no indications of tempo or expression: these are all editorial as is the cautionary G natural in b. 7.

Though intended only as an impromptu demonstration of melodic and harmonic control in the service of poetic text, the piece has delicate touches characteristic of Howells’s hymn-style of the 1960s. The beautiful consecutives between bars 15 and 16 that preface the quintessentially Howellsian final cadence are deliberately initialled ‘(H.H.)’.

Patrick Russill
December 2009

  • Ensemble
    Rodolphus Choir
    Ralph Allwood
  • Conductor
    David Hill
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