Herbert Howells, Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet & String Quartet, Op.31

Herbert Howells Howells' Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet dates from 1919. It is in one movement and consists of one long flowing series of song-like melodies. However, it is highly organized, and there is no difficulty in spotting the two main themes and following their exposition, development and recapitulation. ‘Rhapsodic’ refers more to the overall one-movement shape, which encompasses a number of contrasting moods or phases. Howells himself described the Quintet as having a mystic quality, which may be sensed at the outset in the impassioned unison theme that sweeps upwards. This provides the first principal idea of the work. In contrast to this is a tender, tranquil falling theme introduced by the clarinet and echoed by the violins in longer notes. Shortly after the first climax a short, side idea appears, again on the clarinet. The music quickens but gradually, toward the end, slows in tempo, turns calm and ends serenely.

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was born in Lydney, Gloucestershire. His father was an amateur organist, and Herbert himself showed early musical promise. He attended the Royal College of Music where he studied with Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry and Charles Wood. Stanford considered Howells one of his most brilliant and gifted students and persuaded him to enter the first Carnegie Trust composition competition in 1916. His Piano Quartet in a minor, Op.21 won first prize. He subsequently taught at the Royal College of Music and later at London University.

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