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Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, and
Silence as the Ineffable in
English Cathedral Music

PAULEY, JOHN-BEDE (2013) Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, and
Silence as the Ineffable in
English Cathedral Music.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Silence’s expressive potential came to the fore in twentieth-century arts and letters as never before. Its role in Christian theology and spirituality has a much longer history, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, its expressive potential had not been significantly recognized in liturgical choral music. This study examined the relationship between twentieth-century musical silence and the expression of silence as the ineffable in Anglican choral music (referred to as English cathedral music or ECM) of the middle of the twentieth century. The oeuvres of Benjamin Britten and Herbert Howells, two composers successful in both secular and liturgical repertoires and prominent in mid-twentieth-century ECM, were analyzed.

This study examined perceptions and expressions of silence in areas of thought and creativity closely related to ECM: Anglican theology, twentieth-century music, and twentieth-century literature. It found that twentieth-century Anglicanism had an ethos of restraint about expressing silence, but the High Church wing (closer to Anglicanism’s Catholic roots) was more open to expressing silence as the ineffable than the Evangelical wing. Howells’s High Church background and Britten’s Evangelical background help account for Howells’s interest and Britten’s lack of interest in silence as the ineffable. This difference between Howells and Britten also became apparent by examining the silence-related literature they selected or avoided. Howells’s oeuvre thus became the focus of the remainder of the study.

Howells’s perceptions of, and techniques for expressing, silence as the ineffable—some of which are unique to him—were identified and compared with the perceptions and techniques of important continental composers interested in silence: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Anton Webern, and Olivier Messiaen. This study analyzed Howells’s more direct expressions of silence in several secular works before analyzing the more nuanced expression of silence in his ECM.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:PhD research, Britten, Howells, Musical Silence, English cathedral music
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Feb 2014 08:34

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