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After two years as an articled pupil at Gloucester Cathedral, Herbert Howells won an open scholarship in 1912 to the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Stanford (composition) and Charles Wood (counterpoint). Once in London, his earliest works quickly gained attention - in 1913 his Mass in the Dorian Mode was given at Westminster Cathedral and the First Piano Concerto received its premiere at Queen's Hall under Stanford.
Howells's first position (sub-organist at Salisbury Cathedral) was cut short because of ill health, and he returned to the RCM in 1920 as a teacher of composition.
Other appointments included the post of Director of Music at St Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith, in succession to Holst (1936) and the King Edward VII Professorship of Music at London University (1950). He was awarded the CBE in 1953 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1972.
Following the compositional success of his student and early teaching years (the Piano Quartet won the Carnegie Award in 1916 and his Phantasy String Quartet was the 1918 Cobbett Prize winner), Howells enjoyed renewed recognition in later life, triggered by his masterpiece, Hymnus paradisi (1936-8), premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in 1950, and consolidated by the Missa sabrinensis (1954) and Stabat Mater (1963). Other important compositions include the Concerto for Strings (1939), A Maid Peerless (1949) and the Motet on the Death of President Kennedy (1964). His songs are regarded as some of the finest English achievements in the medium and illustrate his passion for the English poet and novelist Walter de la Mare.