Anglican Choral Music in a New Elizabethan Age: Herbert Howells and Distances
Following the Second World War, new works for Anglican choral music (ACM) expressed a stylistic shift from the Victorian/Edwardian ceremonial style, which had been associated with imperialism and "God-is-an-Englishman" music, to an idiom that favored quiet introspection and invited associations with political and theological humility and uncertainty. Herbert Howells, the primary author of this turning point, shunned jingoism. In accord with other intellectuals of the period, Howells's scope was national rather than the imperial/cosmopolitan. Spiritually, Howells, though agnostic, drew inspiration from the spiritual, artistic heritage of the Church of England. Naturally, then, he was influenced by the Tudor/Elizabethan golden age of church music, which he brought into dialogue with twentieth-century idioms, inaugurating a "New Elizabethan" era of ACM.
This presentation begins by playing passages from new works for Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation to illustrate the contrast between Howells's idiom and those of his contemporaries. The focus then turns to an aspect of Howells's oeuvre not yet developed in Howells scholarship: his telaesthetic sensibility. Not to be confused with telaesthesis in the paranormal sense, Howells's telaesthesis nonetheless associated distant vistas with the spiritual. Howells and contemporary reviewers note the importance of distance in Howells's oeuvre. These statements lead to a discussion of techniques Howells used to convey the telaesthetic, particularly in association with silence. What results is a better understanding of a post-war voice in ACM that has influenced such twenty-first-century composers as Jonathan Harvey, John Tavener, and James MacMillan.