Mass in the Dorian Mode - Herbert Howells (1892 - 1983)

When Pius X issued Moto Propriu in 1903 he instituted a change in the use of music in the Roman Catholic liturgy. The document exhorted churches to use simpler, less decorative forms of music for common worship, that the people could understand and be part of. The main response was for composers of church music to return to the forms of an earlier era: plainsong (as used extensively by Duruflé in the Requiem) and, in the case of Herbert Howells, polyphony – the musical language of the Renaissance, as produced in England by Tallis, Byrd, Taverner and others. 
Howells was a young student at the Royal College of music in 1912, studying composition under Sir Charles Stanford. He was asked by Stanford to assist Dr Richard Terry (the then organist of Westminster Cathedral) in his project to re-introduce the works of the English 16th century masters to the diet of music in the cathedral. Howells' response to the stimulus of this music was instantaneous. Over the next five or six years, Howells produced nine works for use in the Catholic liturgy at Westminster, all dedicated to Terry.
The first and most significant of these was the Mass in the Dorian Mode. The piece is written in a modal-polyphonic style, imitative of 16th century writing and is ideally proportioned for use in the Catholic liturgy. Its musical language is simple, direct and superbly crafted. The vocal lines are finely turned and the overall sound is translucent. Those who know Howells for his lush music in the Vaughan Williams style will discover this work to be very different, and may find themselves agreeing with Howells when he said in old age: '…all through my life I've had this strange feeling that I belonged somehow to the Tudor period'.

 Barry Creasy


Collegium Musicum of London


To those using these notes

You are more than welcome to use all or part of these notes in your programme. If you do, please acknowledge authorship by printing the full signature as shown at the end of this programme note.

Thank you.