Howells' Siciliana, “Comme le cerf soupire…”, Pavane and Galliard, and Petrus Suite were all written for pianists at the Royal College of Music. The rich and lilting Siciliana (1958) with its characteristic dotted rhythm, was completed in an afternoon and gently builds to an impassioned climax, after which the tension is gently dispersed. By contrast, the Pavane and Galliard (written for Margaret Bruce) is a much darker response to the renaissance idiom; written in 1964 at a point when he was also working on his Stabat Mater, it is characterised by the torturous harmonic language of the Pavane (intensified by the dance form) and nervous anxiety of the Galliard. “Comme le cerf soupire…” was also written for Margaret Bruce and sets a French chanson which was given to Howells by the critic Edwin Evans in the early 1920’s. It was a melody that Howells immediately committed to memory and he liked to improvise upon it at the piano throughout his life, including on one occasion when Maurice Ravel visited London.
- Jonathan Clinch, Royal Academy of Music, 2020