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Career takes off | Dorothy Howell | Birmingham City Council

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Career takes off

The rapidly developing talents of this wonderful young composer would not go unrecognised. Dorothy had begun to compose large scale orchestral works as well as developing her own reputation as a remarkably fine performer. Her first large scale orchestral work was premiered at the 1919 Proms by Sir Henry Joseph Wood (1869-1944), English conductor and founder of the ‘Promenade Concerts’. A sensation was created overnight, with the press heralding her as the “English Strauss”.

Dorothy gave her first piano recital at the Aeolian Hall in London on Tuesday 11 March 1919. The programme included works by Tobias Matthay, Sir J.B. McEwen, and Five Studies and Humouresque which she had written herself. This concert was a very significant turning point in her rapidly developing musical career and the reviews reflected both the maturity and sensitivity of her performance. “An Interesting Pianist” was the title of one of the articles, and “A tribute was well deserved for Miss Howell who has good things to offer”. The review concluded that “Her gifts were most evident in a group of studies written by herself, pieces which showed a real inventive power and a rare gift of imagination”.

Her greatest triumph as a composer was to take place in the summer of the same year. Sir J.B. McEwen thought very highly of an orchestral work that Dorothy had written called Lamia, a symphonic poem for orchestra, which had been inspired by the poem of the same name by John Keats. Sir J.B. McEwen then brought the work to the attention of Henry Wood, who at that time was planning the programmes for the Summer Proms season at the Queen’s Hall in London.

Within a few months of her Aeolian Hall recital Sir Henry Wood conducted her first large scale orchestral work. Lamia was premiered at the 1919 Proms and its wonderful success story won her the admiration of a highly critical audience. She gained the recognition as a musical genius, rewarding both Wood and McEwen who always had the greatest of faith in her.