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Herbert Howells




I. Salvator Mundi

 II. Psalm 23

 III. Requiem aeternam

 IV. Psalm 121

 V. Requiem aeternam

 VI. I heard a voice from heaven

Herbert Howells studied the piano and organ with Sir Herbert Brewer, organist of Gloucester Cathedral, and composition with Sir Charles Stanford at the Royal College of Music. His anthems, and in particular his many wonderful settings of the canticles, place him as probably the greatest composer of Anglican church music.


In 1935 Howells’ son Michael died at the age of nine, a tragedy which inevitably cast an immense shadow over the composer’s life. Until quite recently it was thought that the Requiem was composed in response to Michael’s death, but we now know that Howells composed it in 1932 or 1933, originally intending it for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.


For some reason the music was never sent to King’s, and its existence remained unknown until its eventual publication in 1980, only three years before the composer’s own death. After the tragic events of 1935, Howells increasingly associated the Requiem with his lost son, so much so that a few years later, when he was composing Hymnus Paradisi, a work specifically intended as Michael’s memorial and without doubt Howells’ masterpiece, he used substantial parts of the earlier Requiem, re-scoring it for soloists, large chorus and orchestra. 


Fauré and Duruflé did not adhere strictly to the standard liturgy in their Requiems, and before them Brahms had gone even further in Ein Deutsches Requiem by using his own selection of texts taken from the Lutheran Bible and the Apocrypha. Though musically Howells’ Requiem could scarcely be more different from the Brahms, there is perhaps a similar spirit at work in the composer’s very personal choice of devotional psalms and scriptural passages from both the Catholic and Anglican liturgies for the dead. 


Howells’ music is much more complex than other choral music of the period, most of which still followed in the Austro-German tradition that had dominated English music for two centuries. Long, unfolding melodies are seamlessly woven into the overall textures; the harmonic language is modal, chromatic, often dissonant and deliberately ambiguous. The overall style is free-flowing, impassioned and impressionistic, all of which gives Howells’ music a distinctive visionary quality.


The Requiem is written for unaccompanied chorus, which in places divides into double choir. There are six short movements which are organised in a carefully balanced structure. The two outer movements frame two settings of the Latin ‘Requiem aeternam’ and two psalm-settings. Howells reserves his most complex music for the Latin movements, in which he uses poly-tonality, chord-clusters and the simultaneous use of major and minor keys. In contrast, the psalm-settings are simple and direct, the speech-rhythms of the plain chordal writing arising out of the textual inflections. 


One of the earliest and most fundamental influences on Howells was Gloucester Cathedral, with its immense, vaulted spaces and glorious east window. Howells wrote of it as ‘a pillar of fire in my imagination.’ He consciously set out to mirror these essentially architectural elements of spaciousness and luminosity in his music, and these characteristics can clearly be heard in the Requiem. Significantly, the main climax of the work occurs at the words ‘et lux perpetua luceat eis’ – ‘let light perpetual shine upon them’ – a symbol of hope and comfort, confirmed in the closing pages by the final release of tension and the gradual transition to a simple, peaceful D major.

John Bawden

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

BWV 118, Chorale

Johann Sebastian Bach


O Jesus Christ, light of my life,
My treasure, my comfort, my security;
I am only a guest on the earth
and the burden of sin oppresses

me greatly.

Erroneously designated as a cantata in the 19th century, O Jesus Christ, mein Lebens Licht, BWV 118 is not a cantata but rather a motet. It was originally composed in 1736 for an outdoor funeral with chorus and brass instruments.


Later on, Bach crafted an “indoor” arrange-ment for two trumpets, strings, and chorus. This achingly beautiful motet is one of the last original choral works written by Bach. The chorale melody used, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid,” must have been one of Bach’s favorites, as it appears in four cantatas: BWV 3, 44, 58 & 153. The sopranos sing the chorale tune, while the lower voices sing counterpoint.


The music and text, as is typical of Bach, portray death as a desired outcome, allowing the soul to enter in eternal bliss. The ascending string motive and the sumptuous texture created by the trumpets floating above the voices and strings shape a mesmerizing effect.

Ryan Turner

Dona Nobis Pacem

Final Movement Only

Ralph Vaughan Williams


Dona Nobis Pacem, premiered in 1936, opens with a heartrending cry. Vaughan Williams’ perspective was no longer bound to the geography of England. His empathy now enfolded a world faced with another war. In setting biblical and poetic text to music, he paid subtle tribute to Verdi’s Requiem, which he admired5 – for example, the drop of a semitone on the word “dona,” bass drum key-shifts by thirds, and wild brass fanfares. Dona Nobis Pacem also anticipated by 25 years Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, with its dramatic settings of Latin liturgical text and poetry and its emphasis on reconciliation. Dona Nobis Pacem was performed at countless festivals and concerts in the years leading up to World War II.

In the last movement, Vaughan Williams compiles a number of wise biblical sayings urging communal action for peace. And whoever said peace is boring compared to war has not heard the final paean to character redeemed in the strength required to lay down arms. The “Glory to God” climax has a well-placed familiarity. Repetitions of the phrase “and on earth peace, good-will toward men” ring with celebratory optimism. Only the soprano soloist’s “dona nobis pacem” floating hauntingly overhead sounds a warning that we must heed, lest we revert and again sacrifice “righteousness and peace” to war.

Carol Talbeck


Attend Kentucky Bach Choir performances live and in person!



Our annual fundraiser which proffers beer, food, raffles, prizes, jokes,

music, and the unabashed exploitation of inebriated guests.

Sunday, October 16, 2022, 4:00 pm

West Sixth Brewing Company

501 West Sixth St., Lexington, Kentucky


Christmas Oratorio


Parts I, II and III

by Johann Sebastian Bach

Sunday, December 11, 7:30 pm

First Presbyterian Church

174 N. Mill St., Lexington, Kentucky


by Herbert Howells

Sunday, March 5, 2023, 7:30 pm

First Presbyterian Church

174 N. Mill St., Lexington, Kentucky

The Audrey Rooney

Vocal Competition


Saturday, March 18, 2023, 2:00 pm

First Presbyterian Church

174 N. Mill St., Lexington, Kentucky

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