New Composition: String Quartet No. 2, ‘Locomotion’

String Quartet No. 2 is Robert Howard’s most ambitious work to date, as the second of this year’s forays into long-form compositions, the first being Piano Sonata No. 1, ‘Bells.’

The 30-minute piece mimics the elements of a traditional string quartet, with four movements in the expected forms, but uses a conceptual title – ‘Locomotion’ – as a ‘compositional stimulus in creating extended pattern-based textures, as well as the development, or journey, of motifs and themes,’ in the composer’s own words. In this, Robert was inspired by his own love of train travel. Other than these textures, however, there is no attempt to evoke particular imagery, giving the listener freedom to interpret the music in their own way.

The first movement is in loose sonata form, based around E modal minor, or Aeolian mode, subtly recalling the folk-influenced 20th-century British music that has formed the background to the composer’s oeuvre.

The second movement bears the hallmarks of a busy scherzo, and a pleasingly sentimental slow movement follows in ternary form, with syncopated rhythms and rich harmonies building slowly upon a ground bass in the first theme, leading into a more ethereal second theme, before the first returns and dims a niente.

The extended finale grows out of the previous movement, with a rondo-like jig theme on another ground bass. Contrasting episodes feature modulating material, as well as a secondary theme in C. The final section sees a cyclic return of the first movement’s first theme, now at the finale’s faster tempo, and in the closing key of G minor. Throughout its half-an-hour duration, the piece journeys through various main keys, ascending by a perfect fourth for each movement, from E minor, through A minor and D minor, finally culminating on G minor, thus making the full work an example of ‘progressive tonality.’ The piece as a whole sees much use of canonic, or heterophonic, textures, and a move towards more polyphonic textures than in previous works.

String Quartet No. 2 is dedicated to the composer’s lifelong friend and colleague David Kernick, marking 20 years of involvement in both Prescot Parish Church Choir and the Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts. Commenting on the piece, David said: ‘I especially enjoy how it bears all the distinctive traits of Robert’s music, while at times recalling teasingly yet fleetingly so much of the great string quartet repertoire, such as that of Alexander Borodin, Maurice Ravel and Philip Glass. As a departure into new territory, along with the Piano Sonata, it is very successful and more than deserving of a live concert performance, which I hope we’ll see sooner rather than later.’

2023: The Year So Far…

It is hard to believe we are already three quarters of the way through 2023, but it has been a productive year so far for Rob.

As well as Postlude in Glory for organ, the Coronation-inspired Fanfare in Canon for brass quartet and a substantial revision of the earlier Invocation & Dance for bassoon and piano, the year has seen a foray into extended compositions: The three-movement Piano Sonata No. 1, ‘Bells,’ and the four-movement String Quartet No. 2, ‘Locomotion,’ clocking in at 23 minutes and 32 minutes, respectively. Note all that scores continue to be available for download at Sheet Music Plus.

Rob’s sacred choral repertoire remains in use in worship, with Prescot Parish Church Choir, among others, singing Bread of the World, God So Loved the World, I Gave You Love (The Good Friday Reproaches) and Glory, Love, and Praise, and Honour. The solo voice and piano version of the 2022 Ave Maria has received four performances – a ‘mini-tour’ – with David Kernick singing it in Prescot, with the composer at the piano, and again in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral for the Francis Neilson Lunchtime Concert in March. This latter occasion also included the solo version of God So Loved the World, repeated for the Easter Vigil at Prescot Parish Church. Soprano Abigail Birch-Price also sang Ave Maria, first at All Hallows’ Allerton in May, then the following month as part of the Prescot Festival, again with the composer accompanying.

Listen to Abigail Birch-Price singing Ave Maria:

Jubilate Deo is as popular a choice as ever for choirs, enjoying several high-profile performances in 2023, by the massed community choirs of Liverpool Cathedral (Liverpool 64, Gilbert Scott Singers and Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir) at cathedral concerts in April and July, under the direction of Ian Wells, with Ian Tracey on the organ.

Christopher McElroy conducted the Choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (pictured) singing the piece three times in July, each with Richard Lea on the organ: At the cathedral mass for the Sacred Heart, at the Prescot Festival, and finally in a remarkable 140-voice choir, in combination with the boys, girls and lay clerks of Liverpool Cathedral Choir, at their highly successful Coronation-themed ‘Fit for a King’ concert. They also joined the voices of the Prescot Festival Chorus to sing Rob’s Glory, Love, and Praise, and Honour in June (conductor Ian Wells, organist Peter Kwater).

Notable first performances have included the solo organ piece Postlude in Glory, given by James Luxton of Liverpool Cathedral at his solo recital at the Prescot Festival. September’s annual Parish Musicians in Concert, also at Prescot, saw a first performance of Praise the Lord (David Kernick, tenor, with Rob at the piano) and a premiere of Berceuse for piano.

Festival Still Flourishing

As it approaches its 20th year, the Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts is still going strong, with 2023 audiences averaging over 200 for main evening concerts and 1,700 in total. As well as seeing performances of his own works on the 19th annual programme, Rob conducted his South Liverpool Orchestra in the Proms-style Festival Finale (pictured below). The 10-day schedule was the occasion for debut performances from the Choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, pianist and organist James Luxton, and the Phil Shotton Big Band (pictured above). There was also a first-time event at Prescot’s new Shakespeare North Playhouse. Other concerts throughout the year featured Skelmersdale Prize Band in March (raising £125 for the festival, after costs) March, and Parish Musicians in Concert in September (raising over £330 for the parish).

Rob’s post as Assistant Head of Music Faculty at St Edward’s College, Liverpool, continues to occupy his weekdays. As conductor of the secondary school’s junior, senior and chamber orchestras, Rob has wielded the baton for two packed performances of A Night at the Musicals, a Leavers’ Concert in March and a Summer Concert in July.

Despite school commitments, Rob still finds time for regular performances as Principal Bassoonist of Liverpool Mozart Orchestra and Liverpool Bach Collective, ongoing conducting engagements with Prescot Parish Church Choir, and high-standard, sell-out performances conducting Phoenix Concert Orchestra in British and US Light Music in concert at St Ann’s Church Aigburth, and South Liverpool Orchestra in Coronation-themed repertoire at All Hallows’ Allerton and at the Prescot Festival in June (see above).

New Composition: Piano Sonata No. 1, ‘Bells’

With three movements running to 23 minutes, the Piano Sonata, completed in 2023, is a departure for Rob, but there remain elements of his signature compositional style alongside the new.

Subtitled ‘Bells‘, the piece plays with a variety of bell-like sounds within the broadly expected contours of a traditional sonata, with the outer movements framing a middle ‘slow’ movement.

The first movement, ‘Chimes,’ opens with an expansive motif in octaves, spanning the whole length of the keyboard, from E1 to A7, with an alternating pattern that suggests a kind of call and response between the bass and treble extremes. A second theme explores closer, richer harmonies in syncopated rhythm, with more melodic suggestions springing up in the bass. These are treated in loose sonata form, with the two themes stated, then developed before being restated. As with many of Rob’s compositions, the flavour is programmatic, with the shape and texture not just suggesting the literal bells of the title, but provoking the imagination in other ways; the opening theme, with its sparse but effective harmonies and wide ranges easily suggests big spaces and broad landscapes, for example. The contrastingly prescient atmosphere of the second theme propels the imagination through subtle moods that feel sometimes optimistic, other times ominous.

The second movement is brooding and meditative, gradually building on a simple opening idea. The sonata is dedicated to ‘my family,’ and this movement, titled ‘Requiescat’ (Latin: rest [in peace]) suggests those beloved family members now departed are in mind. What begins with haunting uncertainty ends with a satisfying sense of hope. The ever-richer harmonies and ever-busier rhythms and sounds crescendo both literally and figuratively, through quavers, then triplets, and finally cascading semiquavers that lift our minds into the ether. The movement ends with just a single melodic line, lingering on the tonic, supertonic and, finally a lone mediant, or the third note of the major scale. It is alone but nevertheless represents a natural, harmonic resolution.

The third movement sees the composer return to a minimalistic style that has characterised much of his past work. The repetitive, clockwork motion suggests the mechanics of the ‘carillon,’ a set of tuned bells whose music has inspired many keyboard composers, notably, eg, the French organist Louis Vierne. The carillon, for which the movement is named, is a moto perpetuo whose rumbling bass compels us from a portentous beginning to a bright, celebratory flourish of bells. The colourful use of harmonic modes unites Rob’s style with that of his 20th-century forebears, especially those who found inspiration in the traditional folk music of the British Isles.

The sonata comes full circle, the triumph of the final movement fading and giving way to a forceful restatement of the motif that opened the whole work, then an inconclusive final chord, with bare fifths in the bass and a clashing sharpened tonic in the treble stave. The clash is never resolved; the chord fades niente – to nothing.

A Look Back and a Glance Ahead

As 2023 begins, Rob is pleased to be able to look back on a record year for performances of his compositions.

In September, the composer himself gave the first performance of his own Four Piano Miniatures at Parish Musicians in Concert, at St Mary’s, Prescot. A short time later, the choir sang Rob’s Glory, Love, and Praise, and Honour as its Harvest anthem and God So Loved the World for the Feast of All Souls.

The year later saw the first performance of the solo piano piece Departure (2009) at St Edward’s College, and in October, the combined choirs of Liverpool Cathedral sang the SATB version of Jubilate Deo. Stephen Mannings conducted Liverpool Cathedral Choir, Liverpool Cathedral Junior Choir, the Gilbert Scott Singers and Liverpool 64, with Matthew Breen on the organ, and Ian Wells and Daniel Bishop on percussion. The occasion was the launch of the cathedral’s new Liturgy and Music Foundation, with keynote speech by composer and LAMF Honorary President Will Todd. Listen to the stunning performance below:

Rob’s newest composition experienced something of a mini-tour in late 2022. The Little Child, for solo voice and piano, set text by Laurie Twinam to the traditional folk tune Barbara Allen, and was heard by a combined audience of over 800. These performances encompassed an array of different settings and accompanists: Venues were Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, All Hallows’ Church, Allerton, and St Mary’s, Prescot; soloists were David Kernick, Abigail Birch-Price and Hannah, of the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir; and accompanists were Stephen Mannings and Rob himself. The occasions were variously lunchtime and evening concerts at the cathedrals, and a combination of orchestral and choral concerts and services at parish churches. The recording below was made at the Mayor of Prescot’s Christmas Concert in December:

The score is now available from Sheet Music Plus, along with other sheet music for Rob’s compositions, as well as audio and score previews.

Rob continues to be as busy as ever, playing bassoon for Liverpool Mozart Orchestra and Liverpool Bach Collective throughout 2022 and an enjoying a packed schedule in December, conducting Christmas concerts with Phoenix Concert Orchestra at St Mary’s, West Derby, South Liverpool Orchestra at All Hallows’, Allerton, and the three orchestras (plus choirs) of St Edward’s College. It has been rewarding to see audience numbers return to pre-pandemic levels – and better!

As Associate Director of Prescot Parish Church Choir, Rob conducted several services over the Advent and Christmas season, including carol services and Midnight Mass. He organised two fundraising concerts at the church in late 2022. At Parish Musicians in Concert in September, he both accompanied on piano and gave solos on bassoon and violin, along with other artists from the church, helping raise over £500 towards parish funds. The Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert likewise attracted donations of £500+ for the mayor’s chosen good causes, and an audience of more than 300 enjoyed festive contributions from Prescot Parish Church Choir, St Mary & St Paul’s CE Primary School Choir and Bluebell Park School Makaton Signing Choir (photo: Alan Humphreys).

The coming year promises the same and more, with the 19th Annual Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts already on the horizon for Friday 16 to Sunday 25 June. The festival always welcomes new Friends of the Festival: Just come along to a meeting, where you can hear news, share views and volunteers your time and talents. Dates and times of all 2023 meetings are now online at

2022: The Year So Far

Robert’s year began with an appearance in Twenty Two Voices, a video celebrating Knowsley’s year as the Liverpool City Region’s Borough of Culture. Rob was among 22 people filmed reading a specially commissioned poem by Curtis Watt.

The year has marked Robert’s 45th birthday and also the 25th anniversary of his father’s passing; fittingly, the last nine months have seen performances of several compositions written in memory of Bob and other late friends and family. On 14 January, Stefan Wilkinson-Hill gave the first performance of the piano piece Fragment I (2009, revised 2021, in memory of June Jagger) at St Edward’s College, where he was Head Boy. On 20 March Rob conducted Prescot Parish Choir in Bread of the World (dedicated to the late Jacquie Kernick), and on 15 April, the choir sang his setting of the Good Friday Reproaches, I Gave You Love, written in 2019 and dedicated to the late composer and Liverpool Cathedral organist Noel Rawsthorne. Also at Prescot Parish Church, the following day, David Kernick (tenor) gave the first performance of Rob’s setting of God So Loved the World (2020, dedicated to Bob Howard), and its choral arrangement received a premiere by the Choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford, in the same venue on 1 July.

Robert’s 2016 anthem Jubilate Deo was heard twice in Prescot Parish Church during the summer: On 18 June as part of the Prescot Festival, when it was a joint performance from Liverpool Cathedral’s community choirs (Liverpool 64, Gilbert Scott Singers and Junior Choir), under Ian Wells. To open that concert, the 100-strong Prescot Festival Chorus sang Rob’s For Mary, Mother of Our Lord, also under Ian’s reliable hand. The work was composed in 2018 and dedicated to Rob’s mother, Dorothy. Jubilate Deo was again performed in the church by the Choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford, in July.

June 2022 saw the return of a fully live 10-day Prescot Festival, after an unavoidable hiatus of three years, during which the festival continued in a hybrid online/in-person format. It was a tremendous success, with combined audience numbers of 1,700 equalling the festival’s pre-Covid record. Taking place from 18 to 26 June, this year’s festival was something of a fanfare to herald the July opening of Prescot’s new Shakespeare North Playhouse, a long-anticipated community occasion that Rob had helped to plan as a member of the Prescot Cultural Consortium.

Rob continues to conduct and perform with an array of musical groups across the region, which have continued gradually to resume rehearsals and engagements in the wake of the pandemic. Highlights of the year so far include:

  • Performing at the University of Liverpool’s new Tung Auditorium (as Principal Bassoonist of the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra)
  • Monthly performances with Liverpool Bach Collective (including Evensong at the Prescot Festival)
  • Organising a Prescot Festival fundraiser by Skelmersdale Prize Band
  • Conducting a massed string orchestra in a Concert for Ukraine at Bolton Parish Church in March, raising over £4,000
  • Conducting Liverpool Mozart Orchestra at Princes Road Synagogue, Liverpool, on 27 March, in Raff’s Sinfonietta and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, as well as preparing the orchestra for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (complete) with soloist Thelma Handy, Leader of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Directing South Liverpool Orchestra on 3 May at All Hallows’ Church, Allerton, in a highly successful Regal Celebration for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee; the programme included Rob’s 2015 orchestral tone poem Cortege (dedicated to David Kernick); Rob later conducted SLO in a three-rehearsal study course on Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No. 5
  • Conducting Phoenix Concert Orchestra in the Prescot Festival finale on 26 June – the ensemble’s first concert since 2019
  • Several concerts conducting the three orchestras of St Edward’s College, including A Night at the Movies on 6 and 7 April, the Year 13 leavers’ concert on 11 May and school summer concert on 6 July; from 11 to 15 July Rob joined the 60 strong Tour Choir in travelling to Barcelona for performances at Montserrat Monastery, Barcelona Cathedral and La Sagrada Familia

Sheet Music Plus remains an effective way of taking Rob’s compositions to a global audience, and as a result, the solo flute piece Flautando has had a performance in Australia, and the carol This Little Babe and violin solo Peasant Song have both been heard in the USA this year. Click here to browse and purchase scores and sheet music for Robert’s compositions.


2021: A Look Back

As the year comes to an end, it’s worth taking a look back at Rob’s achievements since his last update in June.

In June, the Prescot Festival took place in hybrid form, with a delicate balance of in-person events and online arts and music. Church services, art displays, footage from the Liverpool Cathedral Festival of Music and a cultural tour of historic Prescot were all part of the 10-day programme.

In August, Rob was interviewed as part of the Prescot Makers and Players project, in association with Imaginarium Theatre and Knowsley Council. The resulting short film also features clips of Prescot Parish Church Choir, of which Rob is associate director, singing his choral work For Mary, Mother of Our Lord, under conductor David Kernick. The piece was written for the 2018 Patronal Festival at St Mary’s Prescot, and was sung again at this year’s patronal.

Watch Makers and Players, Chapter 10: The Composer and the Choirmaster below, and see more local artists and crafters on the main project page at

September saw several performing groups resume after almost eighteen months. Rob returned to conducting Phoenix Concert Orchestra in rehearsing light music repertoire, giving monthly bassoon performances in Bach cantatas with the Liverpool Bach Collective, playing principal bassoon with Liverpool Mozart Orchestra and, of course, directing a variety of choirs, orchestras and live events at St Edward’s College, where he teaches.

Among these events have been the South Liverpool Orchestra’s 45th Anniversary Concert (also marking Rob’s 10th anniversary as conductor) on Tuesday 7 December at All Hallows’ Church, Allerton, Liverpool. The programme included music by Nicolai, Bizet, Carwithen, Bush, Sibelius and Anderson, as well as congregational carols. The orchestra also performed three movements (Procession, Folk Song and Dance) from Rob’s own Festival Suite, commissioned by Knowsley Performing Arts in 2007; and the first live performance of his solo piano miniature Arietta (1990, recently revised), to an audience of 150.

On Thursday 9 December, the Prescot Festival team held its first large-scale event since March 2020, with the Mayor of Prescot’s Charity Christmas Concert at Prescot Parish Church attracting an audience of about 235 and raising almost £250 for local good causes. Brassworks Quartet, Bluebell Park School Makaton Signing Choir and St Mary and St Paul’s CE Primary School Choir joined Prescot Parish Church Choir, who sang Robert’s 2017 meditation Alleluia (also sung twice on the First Sunday of Advent), with the composer at the piano and conductor David Kernick providing the opening and closing tenor solo. David also sang Rob’s setting of O Little Town of Bethlehem. Watch the videos below:

On Thursday 16 December, St Edward’s College held a successful Christmas concert, ‘Make It Magical,’ with Rob conducting the large-scale senior, chamber and junior orchestras, with massed choirs, choristers and soloists. Click here to watch the concert on the school’s official Facebook page.

Prescot Parish Choir, of which Rob is associate director, has been busy throughout Advent, with Sunday singing, Christmas services and a host of community events, including ecumenical ‘Carols around the Tree’ and visits to sing carols outside local care homes. Click here to watch Carols by Candlelight, Prescot Parish Church’s annual festival of lessons and carols, on Facebook.

And finally, the Fourth Sunday of Advent saw the premiere at Prescot Parish Church of Robert’s new setting of Ave Maria, which he dedicated to his late father, Bob Howard, as he approaches the 25th anniversary of his passing. Tenor David Kernick sang, with the composer at the piano.

Taking for granted the now-ubiquitous proviso that we are living in uncertain times, in 2022 Rob anticipates more composition and performances, including conducting engagements with Liverpool Mozart Orchestra and performances of his own works by the Choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford.

Don’t forget that the catalogue of Robert’s compositions continues to grow, with almost 200 scores now available for perusing, purchasing and downloading on Sheet Music Plus.

New Anthem: God of All Creation

Robert Howard’s latest choral composition will be heard for the first time on Sunday 6 June.

Members of Prescot Parish Church Choir will sing God of All Creation, a new anthem composed for the 2021 Royal School of Church Music Sunday Anthem Competition, using words by the Reverend Canon Gordon Giles.

This joyous, major key anthem, with modal inflections, features a series of memorable choral motifs in the main outer sections. A contrasting middle section uses imitation between parts and builds in volume and excitement, before an adapted return of the initial material. The work is framed by an introduction and extended fanfare coda in the accompaniment.

The premiere takes place during the Eucharist at 10am on Sunday 6 June, which is RSCM Music Sunday. All are welcome to attend this service of worship at Prescot Parish Church (Church Street, Prescot, L34 3LA), but it is essential to book ahead via Eventbrite.

Later in the month the choir will sing Robert’s 2016 motet Ave verum corpus (10am, Sunday 27 June). Again, worshippers are invited to book ahead via Eventbrite. Booking opens at 11am the Sunday before each service.

Last month the parish used Robert’s 2017 choral work Alleluia in their video ‘How do you pray?’ as part of Thy Kingdom Come, a ‘global prayer initiative’ from Ascension to Pentecost. The singers were by cathedral-based choir Liverpool 64, who made the recording in 2020. Watch and listen below:

The Prescot Festival will go ahead from Friday 18 to Sunday 27 June this year, with a mix of online and offline events. Highlights include the Prescot Heritage Trail, online contributions from Shakespeare North and Liverpool Cathedral, and the two Sung Eucharists on Sundays 20 and 27 June. Artistic director Robert will personally introduce the festival and draw proceedings to an end via specially recorded video messages on the opening and closing days.

Robert, who founded the Prescot Festival in 2005, spoke to Jessie Aru-Phillips of BBC Radio Merseyside about this year’s programme. Listen to the interview below, and browse the full festival schedule at

And finally, a reminder that the catalogue of Robert’s scores for perusing, purchasing and downloading continues to grow on Sheet Music Plus.

Robert Celebrates 30 Years Composing

The year 2020 marked three decades since Robert Howard began his composing career. As a pupil at Prescot School, in 1990, he wrote his first piece, Waltz in D, for piano.

Since that time, his compositions have racked up more than 300 live performances worldwide.

Despite the challenge of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, it has been a successful year for Robert. Over 130 of his pieces are now available for printing and download via Sheet Music Plus, and more flexibly scored pieces have been published digitally by CoMA – Contemporary Music Making for All.

Nor has Covid-19 prevented public performances and even premieres. Rotations (2009) was performed by Stephen Mannings in March this year, and David Kernick sang the first performance of God So Loved the World in November, with the composer at the piano. Several performances of Rob’s Christmas carols are planned for December at Prescot Parish Church.

He has continued to compose, with Tantara, for solo trombone, among this year’s output; and he has revised and arranged several of his earlier compositions, many of which you can now hear or see in the Compositions section of this website.

And, in a final piece of good news, the Board of British Mensa recently announced they were to award Robert a Certificate of Appreciation for Services to Classical Music.

New Vocal Work Has Premiere 1 November

A new piece of sacred music by Robert Howard has its premiere at Prescot Parish Church this Sunday, 1 November.

God So Loved the World, a new setting of words from John Stainer’s cantata The Crucifixion, was composed earlier in the year, with a view to a premiere on Good Friday. With church worship and live music suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the performance was postponed indefinitely.

Now, for the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, tenor David Kernick will sing the piece, with the composer at the piano, at the close of Sunday 1 November’s Eucharist at Prescot Parish Church.

The service starts at 10am, and all are welcome. You are asked to book ahead and observe social distancing and other measures while inside. All details are online at

News from the Lockdown

Robert’s compositions continue to find a way of being heard, even in these unusual times.

The Liverpool Cathedral-based community choir Liverpool64 sang the moving 2017 anthem Alleluia in early April. Singers rehearsed together online and recorded their individual performances at home, before director Stephen Mannings edited the final piece – a great technological accomplishment as well as a musical one.

The recording was used again by Prescot Parish Church for their Easter Day service, published to both Facebook and their website,

Tenor David Kernick had planned to give the premiere Robert’s God So Loved the World on Good Friday, during the Second Hour at Prescot Parish Church. In it Robert follows in the footsteps of other composers – most famously John Stainer, who used the same biblical text  (John 3.16-17) in his 1887 oratorio The Crucifixion. Circumstances delayed the performance, but David nevertheless was able to introduce Prescot Parish Church Choir to the beautiful new setting as part of a an online tutorial.

Scores from Robert’s vast catalogue of compositions are still being added to Sheet Music Plus. Musicians finding the coronavirus restrictions a struggle may enjoy downloading and learning one of the dozens of instrumental solos, piano pieces, and chamber and choral works now available.