Educated at Cambridge, Berlin's Hochschule für Musik and the Royal College of Music, Somervell
took a teaching position at the RCM in 1894. He was later appointed inspector of music to the Board of Education, a position that was to occupy much of his time and energy and perhaps detracted from his compositional career. In this capacity he worked to establish music as a genuine subject in schools of all levels. Somervell
never stopped composing, however, and wrote pieces in almost every genre. He is most remembered for his choral compositions that were more accessible to average voices. His Passion of Christ, a short oratorio, is an example of this type of writing. His most important work is to be found in his five song cycles that set the work of Tennyson, Housman and Browning, of which Maud, a setting of poems by Tennyson, is perhaps his masterpiece. Although his music was not adventurous, he was a fine craftsman of powerful works.