Howells: Sing Lullaby
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Publisher: Stainer & Bell
No.2 of Three Carol-Anthems Here is the Little Door describes with quiet wonder (but dark portents of the future history of Christianity) the arrival of the Magi at the crib, using a text variously ascribed to G.K.Chesterton and his wife Frances. Sing Lullaby has the free sweep and flow of what would sound like plainsong if it weren't moving so fast. But the most remarkable setting is A Spotless Rose: another free-flowing structure where the voices move in parallel through time-changes that confounded the choir of King's Cambridge in early performances but sound perfectly natural now. The flow ends in a paradigm example of a Howellsian harmonic crunch that stab of pleasing pain within the closing words 'cold winter's night'. It's an extraordinary cadence. And it so affected the composer Patric Hadley that he wrote to Howells every Christmas saying he hoped to die to the sound of it. Bizarrely, though, this jewel-like miniature was said by Howells himself to have been inspired by goods trains shunting back and forth on a railway line beside his house in Gloucester - a sound-source you can perhaps detect in the churning undulations of the melody, although as music it's a world away from steam and whistles.
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