Herbert Howells’ A garland for De la Mare twelve songs for voice and piano: contexts for performance

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Benjamin C. Blozan (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
James Douglass

Abstract: Because British composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983) decided in mid-career to concentrate his creative energies upon Anglican liturgical music, his many notable contributions to secular genres are often overlooked. This is certainly the case for A Garland for de la Mare, a collection of twelve songs for voice and piano on poems by Howells' longtime friend Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), a work nearly unknown in the United States. Its posthumous publication in 1995 also contributed to its failure to enter the art song canon. The neglect suffered by this commemorative work--held in high esteem by all writers who have assessed it--is unfortunate and unwarranted. Howells and de la Mare are both ubiquitously regarded as master craftsmen in their respective disciplines. Additionally, they share a remarkable compatibility between musical and poetic languages which is vividly highlighted in the songs in Garland. The set gains additional significance by containing the only songs Howells worked on past 1934. Though early versions of several of the songs first appeared in 1919, the bulk of Howells' effort occurred much later in the mid-50s (surrounding de la Mare's death) and in the years leading up to the centenary of the poet's birth in 1973. As such, they display a confidence and economy indicative of a composer fully in possession of his creative voice. This study aims to combat Garland's obscurity by inspiring interest in informed performances of the songs therein. It begins with biographical sketches of Howells and de la Mare, situating both men with regard to their contemporaries and surrounding artistic movements. The subsequent chapter views Garland from four aspects: 1) a history of the set's complex and lengthy gestation, cross-referencing various sources to fill in the gaps found in each existing account and to resolve several inaccuracies; 2) an orientation to the poetry chosen for the set; 3) a summary of Garland's main musical features which draws attention to three key components of Howells' compositional language--Tudor-style polyphony, an evocative harmonic language often associated with impressionism, and the incorporation of native folk elements; and 4) suggested ways in which the songs might be used by voice teachers and recitalists. The document culminates in detailed discussions of each song. These discussions delve deeper into de la Mare's lyrics and highlight the musical means through which Howells conveys his refined understanding thereof. The theme of the "collective genius" formed by these two creative minds runs throughout this section. Though some the terminology encountered necessitates a musical education on the part of the reader, this reference source is aimed primarily at performers and avoids analysis of an exceedingly theoretical nature. A song collection of this artistic merit, evincing a rare level of craft and aesthetic compatibility between poet and composer deserves to be better known. This study presents a comprehensive and approachable guide to this work which intends to encourage its performance and secure its place in the body of mainstream vocal repertoire.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Garland, Herbert, Howells, Mare, Piano, Song
Howells, Herbert, $d 1892-1983 $t Garland for De la Mare
De la Mare, Walter, $d 1873-1956 $x Musical settings

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