French influences remained in Howells’s piano work throughout his career yet, other interests, particularly that of Tudor music, were also absorbed into his personal style and the three dances and chanson show how much he continued to develop and refine his writing. In the Petrus Suite, he distils and simplifies the idiom significantly, writing beautiful miniatures that are instantly recognisable as coming from the mature Howells’s pen.
The Petrus Suite was written between 1967 and 1973 for Hilary Macnamara, the title referring to her son, Peter. The suite underwent a number of revisions and although I have managed to reconstruct seven movements from two sources, it was performed in a number of different orders. An envelope (postmarked 12th March 1973) amongst one source lists the movements as: ‘1. Vagrant Flute 2. Finnickle’s Scherzo 3. Minuet - Sine Nomine 4. Bassoonic’s Dance 5. Pro Tem’s Toccata’. A performance at Barnes Music Club on 1st May 1973 lists ‘1. Bassoonic’s dance, 2. Gavotte, 3. Finnicle’s scherzo, 4. Minuet ‘sine nomine’, 5. Toccata alias Petrus’. A programme from Harrow School Musical Society for Sunday 29th April (1973) lists: ‘Bassoonic’s Dance, Gavotte sine Nomine, Finnicle’s Scherzo, Odd’s Minuet, Toccata’. In common with other works in his late style, the suite shows a further paring back of his writing, to the absolute essentials of Howells’s counterpoint. Material from the playful Toccatina was also used by Howells in his Sonatina for piano (1971), but the piece originates from a sketch he made on Easter Sunday 1921.
- Jonathan Clinch, Royal Academy of Music, 2020