General Election 2019

One week to go. The general election takes place on Thursday 12 December 2019. Check who your candidate is and where to vote

Background

Today the name of Dorothy Howell is sadly all but forgotten, yet she was one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century.

Born in 1898, Dorothy's first fourteen years were spent in Handsworth, at 3 Wye Cliffe Road, where her developing talents as a pianist and composer were encouraged by her parents. As one of six children, she had two younger brothers, Clifford Walter and Alfred John, and two older sisters, Mary Viola and Frances Winifred. Her eldest brother Charles (more commonly known as Carlo) was a talented violinist. All of the family were accomplished musicians, and enjoyed playing instruments and singing together.

Her father Charles Edward Howell (1855 to 1932) was an ironmaster in Birmingham. He was also a self-taught pianist and was for a time the organist and choirmaster at St. Francis' Church, Handsworth. In 1912 they moved to Wollescote House near Stourbridge, when he sat on the Board of Directors for Noah Hingley & Sons Ironworks at Netherton and the Hartshill Iron Company Ltd.

Her mother Viola Rosetta Feeny (1862 to 1942) was the daughter of Alfred Feeny, the Arts and Music critic of the Birmingham Daily Post. The Feeny Trust is still active today and regularly commissions modern orchestral works for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Dorothy had a convent education, firstly at St. Anne's in Birmingham, then at Boon, Belgium (both of which she hated) and finally attended Notre Dame Convent in Clapham. Composing by the age of 13, she always preferred music to school and so was allowed to end her education early at 15 in order to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1914 to study piano and composition.

In 1919 aged just 21, her symphonic poem Lamia was performed to great critical acclaim at The Proms. So was to begin a glittering career in classical music as a distinguished pianist, devoted teacher and composer of over 130 pieces.

Dorothy's musical studies were progressing well when, in January 1917 she heard that Carlo had been tragically killed in action on wartime service. Having to come to terms with the loss of someone she had great affection for and affinity with, had a profound effect. This may well have added deeper feeling and intensity to her work. Her piano playing was passionate and imaginative enough to win her a piano scholarship, beating all of the other pupils with ease.

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