Leo Sowerby (1895-1968), often called the "Dean of American church music," was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he began to compose at the age of ten. His interest in the organ began at the age of 15, he was self-taught at the instrument. He studied composition with Arthur Olaf Andersen at the American Conservatory of Music, Chicago. He spent time in France during World War 1 in the role of bandmaster. In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize, the first composer to receive this. He joined the American Conservatory of Music as faculty in 1924. In addition he received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, the "Canticle of the Sun," written in 1944. In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at St James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, which was consecrated as a cathedral while he was there (1955). Previously, Sowerby was associate organist at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (1919).In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968. His substantial output includes over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet. His later works, done at St James's, Chicago, and Washington Cathedral, are primarily church music for choir and organ.
Prelude on "Malabar" dates from 1948, and was originally published by H.W. Gray as No. 888 in the St. Cecilia Series. It is one of Sowerby's most well-known works. Based upon David McK.Williams tune, "Malabar", the work, which is in a lush, chromaticly bluesy mood, begins softly on the strings, with the tune later played on the Solo Clarinet. The work builds up to a fortissimo climax. In this performance, I go only as far as Full Swell to all the Great and Choir 16', 8'' & 4' stops. There's no need to go further, as the big, "high lying" chords make plenty of sound. The hushed mood gradually returns at the end.