Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing - Howells

Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing is is a 4th-century poem by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, translated by Helen Waddells. In 1963 British composer Herbert Howells was commissioned to set it to music for the memorial service in honor of John F. Kennedy. It is a beautiful memorial in honor of a departed loved one. Howells himself had lost his 9 year old son Michael to polio in 1935. He commemorated the anniversary of his son's birthday and his death in his journal every year. I am certain that he drew heavily from the loss of his son in composing the piece, as many of the musical compositions following Michael's death were deeply impacted by Howells' loss. 
Other influences on Howells seemed to have included British composer Vaughan Williams and early English choral music. I have recently begun researching Howells' in an attempt to explore his compositional styles while on break -- at least until some of my books on French Romantic organs come in at the library. I would like to get started on my music history paper before I return for my last semester. But the interlibrary loan system tends to be rather slow these days, so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to accomplish. Until then, I shall enjoy Howells, apply for organ competitions, and explore graduate school options. I am searching for a good recording of his setting of Take Him, Earth. I am enthralled by his setting of the first stanza -- what a beautifully haunting, English melody. I get a little lost towards the middle, but I think with a better recording and a few more listens I will quickly warm to the rest of it. In the meantime, check out the recording on youtube by the Boston Choral Ensemble.
Tombstone in the Zentralfriedhoff
(Central Cemetery), Vienna
Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.
Once was this a spirit's dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.
Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.
Not though ancient time decaying
wear away these bones to sand,
ashes that a man might measure
in the hollow of his hand:
Not though wandering winds and idle,
drifting through the empty sky,
scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
is it given to man to die.
Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men
Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant's soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.