Byrne wrties at some length about "Lamia" and opens thus: "Lamia (1919) is Dorothy Howell’s most frequently played orchestral composition. It is an orchestral tone poem based on John Keats’ 1820 poem of the same name and is written in a Late Romantic idiom. Contemporaneous critics noted the work’s similarity to the tone poems of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) and even dubbed Howell the ‘English Strauss’. During Howell’s lifetime it was her most successful large-scale orchestral work and brought her career as a composer to public attention in a manner which was unprecedented for a woman composer during the period"...."It could be reasonably suggested that the piece addresses Howell’s grief following the loss of her beloved brother Charles (Carlo) Howell in particularly horrific circumstances during the First World War, and the death of her close friend Dick Sampson during the Second Battle of the Somme (1918).
Merryn Howell provides an explanation as to why Howell chose the poem as a basis for her tone poem:
I know that Dorothy was one of the few members of the family to be aware of the full horrors of Carlo’s [Charles Howell’s] death in Mesopotamia, and she was undoubtedly troubled by the gruesome nature of his death; they were both very close; very similar in the sense that they both shared a love of poetry and music.
Lamia is an unusual poem and I think the work may have had some particular significance for both Dorothy and Charles. This background information perhaps goes some way to revealing why Howell chose Keats’ Lamia as the basis for her work; Keats’ poem is deeply melancholic and its storyline does not reflect the youthful exuberance one might expect from a debut work.
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