Howells was born in 1892 in Lydney, Gloucestershire, the youngest of the six children. His father played the organ at the local Baptist church, and Herbert himself showed early musical promise, first deputising for his father, and then moving at the age of 11 to the local Church of England parish church as choirboy and unofficial deputy organist.
Aged 13, Howells began music lessons with Herbert Brewer, then organist of Gloucester Cathedral, and at 16 became his articled pupil at the Cathedral alongside Ivor Novello and Ivor Gurney.
In 1912, Howells moved to London to study at the Royal College of Music. Here his teachers included Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry and Charles Wood, but his promise seemed likely to be cut short in 1915 when he was diagnosed with Graves' disease and given six months to live (he actually went on to live until the age of 91). His poor health prevented him from being conscripted in World War I. At St Thomas' Hospital he was given the previously untried treatment of radium injections in the neck, administered twice a week over a period of two years.
It is in this period of his life that Howells wrote his first set of Psalm Preludes, this one dated 1915. It lis inscribed to Sir Walter Parratt, and is a musical commentary or meditation on Psalm 34 verse 6 " This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles ". I have recorded it using Salisbury, where Howells served a brief stint as Assistant Organist in 1917, and would likely have played it.
The piece starts in a quiet Loco poco appenato in a modal D minor, and follows Howells’ “arch” style of building crescendos and tension to a climax, followed by diminuendos to a peaceful resolution in the hushed chord of D major. I hope you enjoy my interpretation of it.