Herbert Howell wrote this work from 1936 to 1938, after his son died of polio in 1935. After he had finished the work he retained the music privately, without public performance. The title ‘Hymnus Paradisi’ was suggested by Herbert Sumsion, organist of Gloucester Cathedral. The work was performed for the first time at the Three Choirs Festival in 1950.
Howells had begun composition with his setting of the poem “Hymnus circa exsequies defuncti” of Prudentius. The piece consists of six movements:
- Preludio (for orchestra)
- Requiem aeternam (the first 30 bars are identical to the 3rd movement of the Requiem of 1936)
- The Lord is my shepherd (a setting of Psalm 23)
- Sanctus. I will lift up mine eyes (which juxtaposes the Sanctus from the Ordinary of the Mass with Psalm 121)
- I heard a voice from heaven (from the Burial Service)
- Holy is the true light (from the Salisbury Diurnal, translation by G.H. Palmer)
This wonderful piece of music is particularly special for me because my daughter sings in the chorus….