Herbert Howells' Sir Patrick Spens
Walker, Alicia Wynn
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"Sir Patrick Spens," a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, and baritone solo is an important example of the early music of English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983). Although Howells' works from the period 1915-1919 were much neglected through most of the twentieth century, the recent revival and subsequent recording of "Sir Patrick Spens" indicate the renewed interest in his earliest significant compositions. Standing in contrast to the body of sacred music and organ works for which the composer is best known, "Sir Patrick Spens" (1917) is a setting of a Scottish ballad. It is characterized by harmonies and orchestrations akin to those of Ralph Vaughan Williams, melodic gestures related to folksong, a text setting with very little repetition, and performing forces on a grander scale than Howells had previously attempted. Only in the closing measures of the work does Howells give indications of the sustained lines and thick choral textures that would become his sonic signature. "Sir Patrick Spens" stands thus as a signficant marker on Howells' compositional journey. It is reflective of the initial influences on his music while yielding indications of the composer he would become. The general characteristics of the vocal music of Herbert Howells include, but are not limited to, a tonal/modal harmonic structure, associations with folksong, and an inextricable link to the text. All of these are present in "Sir Patrick Spens" and will form the basis for analysis of the piece. This analysis will in turn provide insight into the distinctive features of the work. The goal of this document is to develop a guide to performance considerations from the point of view of the conductor.