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Mary Howe (1882-1964)

Mary Howe in the early 1930s Howe was an American composer and pianist. She lived and worked in Washington and played an important part in the life of the city. In 1930 she raised the money to found the Washington-based National Symphony Orchestra. Together with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, she also founded the Chamber Music Society of Washington. And with Amy Beach she helped organise the Society of Women Composers in 1925.

She spent several summers at the MacDowell Colony, where she composed many of her orchestral, chamber and vocal works. Her numerous compositions include over 20 large orchestral pieces, as well as a substantial body of chamber and piano music. Many of her works are orchestral tone poems, and her late Romantic musical language is richly expressive. She herself said that her "back foot is in the garden gate of the Romantics, but I feel no hesitation in thumbing the passing modern idiom for a hitch-hike to where I want to go."

To hear Diana Ambache talk about Mary Howe, click here.

Click on these works for more details below:
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Stars. 1927
Lento sonoro. D major. pic, fl, ob, cl, bn, 2hn, tpt, timp, cym, hp, stgs; 5 mins
She sat on the porch of her Rhode Island house of an evening, and was inspired to write this atmospheric evocation of the heavens. Howe herself described it as "... a miniature tone-poem inspired by the gradually overwhelming effect of the dome of a starry night - its peace, beauty and space. The sonorous ensemble of strings opens the work with the suggestion of the spreading immensity of the starry vault. As the music progresses, one's imagination is carried into the contemplation of the awesome depths of space and the sense of mystery which man compares his insignificance with infinity." It has been widely performed in America, including by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski.
Published by Galaxy Music Corporation, New York, USA. Score on hire from Stainer & Bell, POBox 110, Victoria House, 23 Gruneisen Rd, London N3 1DZ, UK (tel 020 8343 3303)
The Ambache gave the UK premieres of Stars, Sand, and Spring Pastoral in May 2004.

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Sand. 1927
Allegretto. C major. fl, ob, cl, bn, hn, perc, stgs; 3 mins
Again inspired by her surroundings, Howe wrote of this music as an "imaginative piece on the substance itself - its consistency, grains, bulk, grittiness and its potential scattering quality." It has also been widely performed, often as a companion piece to Stars. Stokowski wrote of it to Howe "I enjoyed so much conducting your short but masterful work. I have had much pleasure in rehearsing it and it has developed in me a new conception of staccato. But of course this is only one of many interesting elements in the work."
Published by Galaxy Music Corporation, New York, USA. Score on hire from Stainer & Bell, London

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Spring Pastoral. 1938
Andante velato. F major. fl, ob, bn, hn, tpt, timp, stgs, 5 mins
More inspiration from nature, this is an arrangement of a setting of a poem by Elinor Wylie, originally for a chorus of three women's voices with piano. Describing the freshness of spring, it shows Howe's lyrical powers contained in a gossamer veil of sound.
Score on hire from G. Schirmer Inc, New York, USA

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Three Pieces After Emily Dickinson. 1941. String Quartet, 15 mins
1. The Summers of Hesperides: Andante con moto. D major.
2. Birds, by the Snow: Tranquillo. G flat major.
3. God for a Frontier: Allegretto. C - E flat.
The individual movements are not settings of the poems, but each one is coupled with the last line from one of Emily Dickinson's poems. As Howe explained: "For some reason unknown to me, the last line in each poem called upon in my mind not a musical theme but the sort of music I wanted to write." It is a highly imaginative work.

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Suite for String Quartet & Piano. 1928. 19 mins
1. Romanza: Andante Tranquillo. D minor. 2. Scherzo: Allegretto scherzando. C minor-major. 3. Finale: Moderato. D major
The Suite is a richly melodic piece, with freely developed original themes. The three movements contast vividly together, while making a unified whole.

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Wind Quintet. 1957. 20 mins
1. Lustig (Merrily): Comodo. 2. Trüb (Gloomy): Steadily. 3. Schwärmend (Rapturously): Tempo di valse comodo.
4. Mutig (Bravely). Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn.
When the Vienna Symphony, a notoriously conservative band, played Howe's Stars, Sand and Rock, they were so taken with her work that the principal wind players requested a Wind Quintet from her. The music is expressive and wide ranging, and shows a fine ear for instrumental colours. The first movement plays wittily with rustic-sounding themes; the second makes eloquent use of the horn's melodic powers; the third is a faintly ironic Viennese waltz; and although the finale begins with a solemn chant, it develops with jazzy syncopations and Yankee-flavoured folk tunes. We gave the UK première in February 2003. The London Evening Standard described it as combining "a light, though undeniably refined, Romantic manner with a neo-classicism redolent of Hindemith and a gentle angularity that might have come from 1920s Stravinsky."
Contact me for parts.

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Violin Sonata. 1922. 18 mins
1. Allegro ma non troppo. D major 2. Lento recitative. E minor. 3. Allegro non troppo. D major. Violin & piano
This is a richly written late romantic sonata, with broadly flowing themes. The slow movement is genuinely recitative-like, with a scherzo embedded in the middle and end. The finale is characterised by exciting climaxes.
Published by Peters Edition Ltd (No 6469), 10-12 Baches St, London N1 9PA, UK; (tel 020 7553 4000);

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Ballade Fantasque. 1927. 9 mins
Lento rubato - Allegro molto moderato comodo e rubato - Allegro robusto - Poco vivo - Lento cantabile, molto tranquillo. D major. Cello & piano
This is a beautiful cello fantasy, building from gentle, exploratory beginnings to a grand, central climax, then dies back to memories of the ruminative opening.
Published by Hildegard Publishing Company (No 09519), Box 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 1900, USA

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