IV. Down the Hills
V. Quiet Woods
VI. Near Midnight
VII. In the Morning
The 1910 Three Choirs Festival had a strong impact on the young Howells, particularly the premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. It was then that he committed to following a professional career as a composer. His lessons with Herbert Brewer had provided a strong training in both performance and composition. His friendship with Ivor Gurney was also hugely influential. Gurney departed for the Royal College of Music that year, but continued to return home to Gloucestershire regularly, and the pair frequently walked in the surrounding countryside for days at a time. The Summer Idyls (RCM MS 4687 & 4691 – n.b. the early spelling of Idyls was intentional) were written between April and May 1911, and they formed part of a portfolio which he submitted to the Royal College of Music for his open scholarship. In spirit, they seem to capture the pastoral wanderings of Gurney and Howells.
In style, they allude to a range of contemporary influences. The general theme is of the Romantic character piece or miniature, and there are moments of Schumann or Grieg, but the changing musical landscape is also represented too, from the jaunty Elgarian tunefulness of Meadow-Rest (‘Not too slowly, but very quietly’), Summer-Song (‘Very lively and gay’), and In the Morning (‘Cheerily’), to the Debussy-like sonorities of June-Haze (‘Very peacefully and persistent’ – where the hands initially interlock), Quiet Woods (‘Tranquil, and not too slowly’), and Near Midnight (‘Slowly but not in strict time’). Elsewhere, and particularly in Down the Hills, Howells marks his deep love of Rachmaninoff’s piano writing.
- Jonathan Clinch, Royal Academy of Music, 2020