Herbert Howells

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (for St. Paul's Cathedral)

    Description by Chris Boyes

    Herbert Howells began to seriously compose music for the church in 1944, when he served as the choir director at the King's College in Cambridge. Howells was asked to compose a setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for performance in St. Paul's Cathedral. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for St. Paul's Cathedral for chorus (1950) was completed by Howells on December 26, while he was at home in London. The composition of this work was greatly influenced by the cathedral in which it was to be performed. Howells noted that St. Paul's had a "prolonged echo." The composer then decided to employ a slowly moving harmonic rhythm, so that no more than two subsequent harmonies would be heard together at any time. In any other less reverberant setting, this work would perhaps seem dull, but in St. Paul's each sound lingers for such a long period of time that an air of "levitation" is present. Howells was aware of the problem of acoustics in church music throughout his life, because of his familiarity with the Gloucester Cathedral, in which a sound will reverberate for around five seconds. He attempted to incorporate his knowledge of the acoustics of buildings and the dramatic effects that could be produced into his church music.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Magnificat
    2. Nunc Dimittis

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Regent REGCD 478
    2015 Decca 4788918
    2012 Hyperion CDA 67914
    2009 Priory Records 113
    2004 Naxos 8557557-58
    2003 Priory Records 782
    2001 Naxos 556710
    2000 Gothic Records 49115
    2000 Hyperion SPCC 2000
    1999 Naxos 8554659
    1998 Hyperion 22038
    1997 Priory Records 552
    1996 Herald Records HAVPCD191
    1995 Sony Music Distribution SK-66614
    1993 ASV 851
    1993 Hyperion 66260
    CRD Records 3454
    Pro Organo 7037