Herbert Howells: Partita
The Partita, composed in 1971, is inscribed "For the Rt Hon. Edward Heath, M.P., Prime Minister". Its five movements enjoy the almost improvisatory freedom that is characteristic for Howells' writing, yet they are bound together by a kind of cyclic feeling engendered by a fairly consistent use of an original mode: it descends from C to C as follows: C, B, B flat, G, F sharp, E, E flat, C. The Partita exploits both the melodic and harmonic implications of the mode.
(i) The opening Intrata is an Allegro inquieto in triple-time. Its restless opening is firmly grounded on C. A new quiet start emerges sotto voce from a pedal A and leads fluently to the second idea grounded in a tonality of A major, where, with much chromatic alteration arising out of the mode, the music remains until it shifts back to a nominal C tonality for the two final pages of the movement.
(ii) The Interlude begins with a slow, quiet and contemplative monody which develops into an accompanied solo line, before two manual voices, pianissimo, peacefully descend to a low octave C.
(iii) The Scherzo, an Allegro incisivo, is nominally in A major, but the mode effectively contradicts this, as do the naturals which soon alter the key signature to a nominal C major. The Epilogue does, however, revert to a rather modal A major with a long, conjunct melody (8' pedal) which finally grounds on E: it may be recognised as that which concluded the Interlude.
(iv) Sarabande for the 12th day of any October: October 12th was the birthday of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Dr Howells' Sarabande gracefully suggests in its title that no year should be without its recollection of the G. O. M. of English music. Its ambivalent harmonies, which finally come to rest in E major, certainly evoke R.V.W.
(v) Finale and Retrospect: the mode which motivated much of the musical thinking of the previous movements is now clearly outlined in the two initial bars of the finale, an Allegro brioso in common-time for which C provides a hardly disputed tonal centre. As usual with Howells, there is no exact repetition but the formulae of the Finale bear a family resemblance to those that have been heard in previous movement, and the final section derives clearly from the ending of the Intrata.
© 1977 Felix Aprahamian