Howells’s lessons with Herbert Brewer consisted of piano and organ performance, composition, and harmony and counterpoint. Five piano pieces survive from this period. The Arab’s Song is the earliest extant piece of Howells, written on his sixteenth birthday and preserved in a single manuscript (RCM MS 4702). The other four pieces are contained in a single manuscript notebook, along with solo songs and theory exercises. The notebook mixes songs and romantic piano miniatures with poetic titles (and in one case an extract from Wordsworth): Legend [for piano] - ‘From a Northern Land no.ii’, February 1909; incomplete piano piece ‘Gnomes’, February 1909; ‘By the Sea - Wordsworth’ incomplete piano piece, January 1908; songs ‘A Visit from the Sea’ and ‘Windy Nights’ (Robert Louis Stevenson), December 1908; To a Wild Flower for piano, December 14th 1908; ‘Charm me asleep’ (Robert Herrick), December 15th 1908; Melody [for piano] (‘no.i of Two Little Melodies’), January 8th 1909; Romance [for piano], December 31st 1908.
The earliest works are attractive character pieces in a Romantic idiom which show just how different Howells’s writing was before he began to study with Charles Stanford (from 1912).
- Jonathan Clinch, 2021