Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

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Gustav Theodore Holst was an English composer. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

.

His early works show the influence of Grieg
Edvard Grieg
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt , and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.-Biography:Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in...

, Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

, Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

 and fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

, and later, through Vaughan Williams, the music of Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

. The combined influence of Ravel, Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 spiritualism and English folk tunes enabled Holst to free himself of the influence of Wagner and Strauss and to forge his own style. Holst's music is well known for unconventional use of metre and haunting melodies.

Holst composed almost 200 works, including operas, ballets, choral hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s and songs. An enthusiastic educator, Holst became music master at St Paul's Girls' School
St Paul's Girls' School
St Paul's Girls' School is a senior independent school, located in Brook Green, Hammersmith, in West London, England.-History:In 1904 a new day school for girls was established by the trustees of the Dean Colet Foundation , which had run St Paul's School for boys since the sixteenth century...

 in 1905 and director of music at Morley College
Morley College
Morley College is an adult education college in London, England. It was founded in the 1880s and has a student population of 10,806 adult students...

 in 1907, continuing in both posts until retirement. He also taught singing at Wycombe Abbey School from 1912 until 1917.

He was the brother of Hollywood actor Ernest Cossart
Ernest Cossart
Ernest Cossart was a British-born Hollywood actor. Born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, his real name was Emil von Holst. He was the brother of composer Gustav Holst. His daughter was the actress Valeria Cossart....

 and father of the composer and conductor Imogen Holst
Imogen Holst
Imogen Clare Holst, CBE was a British composer and conductor, and sole child of composer Gustav Holst.Imogen Holst was brought up in west London and educated at St Paul's Girls' School, where her father was director of music...

, who wrote a biography of him in 1938.

Early life


Holst was born on 21 September 1874, at 4 Pittville Terrace (named today Clarence Road). Cheltenham
Cheltenham
Cheltenham , also known as Cheltenham Spa, is a large spa town and borough in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds in the South-West region of England. It is the home of the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup, the main event of the Cheltenham Festival held...

, Gloucestershire, EnglandThe house has been opened as a museum devoted to Holst's life and times since 1974, devoted partly to him and partly to illustrating local domestic life of the mid-19th century.

Holst's great-grandfather, Matthias von Holst, was of Nordic origin, and came to England in 1802 from Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

. His son Gustavus moved to England with his parents as a child; he became a composer of salon-style harp music and a notable harp teacher. Holst's father, Adolph von Holst, was organist
Organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

 and choir
Choir
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus...

master at All Saints' Church in Pittville
Pittville
Pittville is a northern area of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, founded in the early 19th Century by Joseph Pitt. It contains Pittville park, with its two lakes, skatepark, tennis courts and Pump Room, Pittville School , the arts and media campus of the University of Gloucestershire, and some...

. He also gave both piano lessons and recital
Recital
A recital is a musical performance. It can highlight a single performer, sometimes accompanied by piano, or a performance of the works of a single composer.The invention of the solo piano recital has been attributed to Franz Liszt....

s, most regularly at the Assembly Rooms. Holst's mother, Clara von Holst, who died in 1882, was a singer who bore two sons, Gustav and Emil Gottfried (who later became Ernest Cossart
Ernest Cossart
Ernest Cossart was a British-born Hollywood actor. Born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, his real name was Emil von Holst. He was the brother of composer Gustav Holst. His daughter was the actress Valeria Cossart....

, a film actor in Hollywood), Following his wife's death, Adolph von Holst eventually remarried,and had two further sons.

Holst was christened Gustavus Theodore von Holst, after his grandfather and his great-uncle Theodor
Theodor von Holst
Theodor Richard Edward von Holst was a nineteenth-century British literary painter.Von Holst was born in London, the fourth of the five children of Matthias and Katharina von Holst. Von Holst's drawing talents were noticed by the artist Henry Fuseli and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Lawrence even bought...

, a painter. He was a frail child with neuritis in his arm which plagued him for the rest of his life. His early recollections were musical; he was taught to play the piano and violin, and began composing when he was about twelve. He also started to play the trombone when his father thought this might improve his son's asthma. He was educated at Cheltenham Grammar School for Boys
Pate's Grammar School
Pate's Grammar School is a voluntary aided, selective grammar school in the Hesters Way area of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England catering for pupils aged 11 to 18. It was granted Language College status in 2001, is a Beacon school, and in February 2006 was one of the first in the country to be...

. He began composition at school, writing piano pieces, organ voluntaries, songs,
anthems and a Symphony in C minor (from 1892). He was also organist and choir master at Wyck Rissington in the Cotswolds.

He attended the Royal College of Music
Royal College of Music
The Royal College of Music is a conservatoire founded by Royal Charter in 1882, located in South Kensington, London, England.-Background:The first director was Sir George Grove and he was followed by Sir Hubert Parry...

 on a scholarship, where he studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford
Charles Villiers Stanford
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was an Irish composer who was particularly notable for his choral music. He was professor at the Royal College of Music and University of Cambridge.- Life :...

 and where in 1895 he met fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

, who became a lifelong friend. Vaughan Williams's own music was in general quite different from Holst’s, but he praised Holst's work abundantly and the two men developed a shared interest in exploring and maintaining the English vocal and choral tradition as found primarily in folk song, madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

s and church music. Holst and Vaughan Williams were able to criticise each other's compositions as they were being written. They never lost this degree of mutual trust.

While at the Royal College of Music, Holst fell in love with the music of Wagner, which he was able to hear at Covent Garden. He also came under the influence of William Morris
William Morris
William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...

, joining the Hammersmith Socialist Society and attending lectures by Morris and George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 (with whom he shared a passion for vegetarianism ). Holst remained a socialist all his life. He was also invited to conduct the Hammersmith Socialist Choir, teaching them Madrigals by Thomas Morley
Thomas Morley
Thomas Morley was an English composer, theorist, editor and organist of the Renaissance, and the foremost member of the English Madrigal School. He was the most famous composer of secular music in Elizabethan England and an organist at St Paul's Cathedral...

, choruses by Purcell
Purcell
Henry Purcell was an English composer.Purcell may also refer to:*Purcell, Indiana, an unincorporated community in Johnson Township, Knox County, Indiana*Purcell, Missouri, a city in Jasper County, Missouri, United States...

, extracts from Wagner as well as works by Mozart and himself.

First steps


Holst had hoped to build his career partly as a pianist, but stricken from adolescence with a nerve condition that increasingly affected the movement of his right hand, he eventually gave up the piano for the trombone
Trombone
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...

. He was good enough to earn employment with the Carl Rosa Opera Company
Carl Rosa Opera Company
The Carl Rosa Opera Company was founded in 1873 by Carl August Nicholas Rosa, a German-born musical impresario, to present opera in English in London and the British provinces. The company survived Rosa's death in 1889, and continued to present opera in English on tour until 1960, when it was...

 and the Scottish Orchestra (forerunner of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is Scotland's national symphony orchestra. Based in Glasgow, the 89-member professional orchestra also regularly performs in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, and abroad. Formed in 1891 as the Scottish Orchestra, the company has performed full-time since 1950,...

) although his salary was only just enough to live on.

He also played in a popular orchestra called the "White Viennese Band", conducted by Stanislas Wurm. The music was cheap and repetitive and not to Holst's liking, and he referred to this kind of work as "worming" (a pun on Wurm's name, which means "worm" in German) and regarded it as "criminal". His need to "worm" came to an end as his compositions became more successful, and his income was given stability by his teaching posts. With his finances secure, Holst married Emily Isobel Harrison, a fair-headed soprano
Soprano
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

, at Fulham Register Office on 22 June 1901, their union enduring until his death in 1934. Emily Isobel bore him a daughter, Imogen
Imogen Holst
Imogen Clare Holst, CBE was a British composer and conductor, and sole child of composer Gustav Holst.Imogen Holst was brought up in west London and educated at St Paul's Girls' School, where her father was director of music...

, on 12 April 1907; to be their only child.

The poetry of Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman
Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse...

 also had a profound effect on Holst, as it did with many of his contemporaries, and he set Whitman's words in "Dirge for Two Veterans" and The Mystic Trumpeter (1904). He also set poetry by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

 and Robert Bridges
Robert Bridges
Robert Seymour Bridges, OM, was a British poet, and poet laureate from 1913 to 1930.-Personal and professional life:...

. Holst also wrote an orchestral Walt Whitman Overture in 1899, which was given a world premiere recording by the Munich Symphony Orchestra
Munich Symphony Orchestra
The Munich Symphony Orchestra is a German orchestra based in Munich. Kurt Graunke founded the orchestra as the Graunke Symphony Orchestra in 1945. The orchestra acquired its current name in 1990...

, as well as a recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The London Philharmonic Orchestra , based in London, is one of the major orchestras of the United Kingdom, and is based in the Royal Festival Hall. In addition, the LPO is the main resident orchestra of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera...

.

During these years Holst also became interested in Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 mysticism
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 and spirituality, and this interest led to the composition of several works set to translations of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 texts, including: Sita (1899–1906), a three-act opera based on an episode in the Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

; Sāvitri
Savitri (opera)
Sāvitri is a chamber opera in one act by Gustav Holst, his Opus 25, with the libretto by Holst himself. The story is based on the episode of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahābhārata, which was also included in Specimens of Old Indian Poetry and Idylls from the Sanskrit...

(1908), a chamber opera based on a tale from the Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

; 4 groups of Hymns from the Rig Veda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

(1908–14); and two texts originally by Kalidasa
Kalidasa
Kālidāsa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language...

: Two Eastern Pictures (1909–10) and The Cloud Messenger (1913). The texts of these last three works were translated by Holst himself. To make these translations from Sanskrit to English, Holst enrolled at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

 (UCL) to study the language as a 'non-matriculated' student. On 14 January 1909 he paid 5 guineas for Sanskrit classes during the spring and summer terms of that year. The UCL records also show that during this time he moved from 23 Grena Road in Richmond, to 10 The Terrace in Barnes. On 19 October 1909 he re-enrolled at UCL for the autumn term and paid 3 guineas
Guinea (British coin)
The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813...

 "special fee" for his Sanskrit classes of "2 hours a week". The records end at this point, and so it seems he only spent one year as a student at UCL.

Teaching


In 1904 Holst took his first teaching job as music master at James Allen's Girls' School
James Allen's Girls' School
James Allen's Girls' School, or JAGS, is an independent day school situated in Dulwich, South London, England. It has a senior school for 11–18 year old girls, a prep school for 7–11 year old girls , and a pre-preparatory school — JAPPS — for 4–7 year old girls.-Jags History:The school is part of...

 in West Dulwich, South London.

In 1905, Holst was appointed Director of Music at St Paul's Girls' School
St Paul's Girls' School
St Paul's Girls' School is a senior independent school, located in Brook Green, Hammersmith, in West London, England.-History:In 1904 a new day school for girls was established by the trustees of the Dean Colet Foundation , which had run St Paul's School for boys since the sixteenth century...

 in Hammersmith
Hammersmith
Hammersmith is an urban centre in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in west London, England, in the United Kingdom, approximately five miles west of Charing Cross on the north bank of the River Thames...

, London. In 1907, Holst also became director of music at Morley College
Morley College
Morley College is an adult education college in London, England. It was founded in the 1880s and has a student population of 10,806 adult students...

. These were the most important of his teaching posts, and he retained both until the end of his life.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, musical society as a whole (and Holst's friend Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

 in particular) became interested in old English folksongs, madrigal singers, and Tudor
Tudor period
The Tudor period usually refers to the period between 1485 and 1603, specifically in relation to the history of England. This coincides with the rule of the Tudor dynasty in England whose first monarch was Henry VII...

 composers. Holst shared in his friend’s admiration for the simplicity and economy of these melodies, and their use in his compositions is one of his music’s most recognisable features.

Holst was an avid rambler
Ramblers
The Ramblers, formerly known as the Ramblers' Association, is the largest walkers' rights organisation in Great Britain which aims to look after the interests of walkers...

. He walked extensively in Italy, France and England. He also travelled outside the bounds of Europe, heading to French-controlled Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

 in 1908 on doctor's orders as a treatment for asthma and the depression that crippled him after his submission failed to win the Ricordi Prize, a coveted award for composition. His travels in Arab and Berber
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

 lands, including an extensive cycling tour of the Algerian Sahara
Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

, inspired the suite Beni Mora, written upon his return.
After the lukewarm reception of his choral work The Cloud Messenger in 1912, Holst was again off travelling, financing a trip to Spain with fellow composers Balfour Gardiner
Henry Balfour Gardiner
Henry Balfour Gardiner was an English musician, composer, and teacher. Between his conventional education at Charterhouse School and New College, Oxford, where he obtained only a pass degree, Gardiner was a piano student at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt am Main where he was taught by Knorr...

 and brothers Clifford
Clifford Bax
Clifford Bax was a versatile English writer, known particularly as a playwright, a journalist, critic and editor, and a poet, lyricist and hymn writer. He also was a translator, for example of Goldoni...

 and Arnold Bax
Arnold Bax
Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, KCVO was an English composer and poet. His musical style blended elements of romanticism and impressionism, often with influences from Irish literature and landscape. His orchestral scores are noted for their complexity and colourful instrumentation...

 with funds from an anonymous donation. Despite being shy, Holst was fascinated by people and society, and had always believed that the best way to learn about a city was to get lost in it. In Girona
Girona
Girona is a city in the northeast of Catalonia, Spain at the confluence of the rivers Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Güell, with an official population of 96,236 in January 2009. It is the capital of the province of the same name and of the comarca of the Gironès...

, Catalonia, he often disappeared, only to be found hours later by his friends having abstract debates with local musicians. It was in Spain that Clifford Bax introduced Holst to astrology
Astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

, a hobby that was to inspire the later Planets
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

suite. He read astrological fortunes until his death, and called his interest in the stars his "pet vice".

Shortly after his return in 1913, St Paul's Girls School opened a new music wing, and Holst composed the still popular St Paul's Suite
St Paul's Suite
St Paul's Suite originally titled Suite in C, is a composition for string orchestra by the English composer Gustav Holst. It was written in 1912, but due to revisions wasn't published until 1922. It is named after the St Paul's Girls' School in the United Kingdom, where Holst was Director of Music...

for the occasion. In 1913, Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

 premiered The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring, original French title Le sacre du printemps , is a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky; choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; and concept, set design and costumes by Nicholas Roerich...

, sparking riots in Paris and caustic criticism in London. A year later, Holst first heard Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

’s Five Pieces for Orchestra
Five Pieces for Orchestra
The Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 16 was composed by Arnold Schoenberg in 1909. The titles of the pieces, reluctantly added by the composer after the work's completion upon the request of his publisher, are as follows:...

, an "ultra-modern" set of five movements employing "extreme chromaticism
Chromaticism
Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism...

" (the consistent use of all 12 musical notes). Although he had earlier lampooned the stranger aspects of modern music, the new music of Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

 and Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

 influenced his work on The Planets.

Holst's compositions include works for wind band, and have become standards in the repertoire. His most famous are the First Suite in E-flat for Military Band of 1909 and the Second Suite in F for Military Band
Second Suite in F for Military Band
The Second Suite in F for Military Band is Gustav Holst's second and last suite for concert band. Although performed less frequently than the First Suite in E-flat, it is still a staple of the band literature...

 of 1911 (see also Hammersmith, below). He also wrote the "Moorside Suite" for brass band
Brass band (British style)
A British-style brass band is a musical ensemble comprising a standardised range of brass and percussion instruments. The modern form of the brass band in the United Kingdom dates back to the 19th century, with a vibrant tradition of competition based around local industry and communities...

 in 1928, the first recognised 'classical' composer to treat the medium seriously.

Holst and wife Isobel bought a cottage in Thaxted
Thaxted
Thaxted is a town in the Uttlesford district of Essex, England, with about 2,500 inhabitants.-History:Thaxted appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Tachesteda, Old English for "place where thatch was got." Once a centre of cutlery manufacture, Thaxted went into decline with the rise of Sheffield...

, Essex and, surrounded by medieval buildings and ample rambling opportunities, he started work on the suite that became his best known work, the orchestral suite
Suite
In music, a suite is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral pieces normally performed in a concert setting rather than as accompaniment; they may be extracts from an opera, ballet , or incidental music to a play or film , or they may be entirely original movements .In the...

 The Planets
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

. Holst himself adapted the theme from "Jupiter
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

" as a hymn tune
Hymn tune
A hymn tune is the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung. Musically speaking, a hymn is generally understood to have four-part harmony, a fast harmonic rhythm , and no refrain or chorus....

 under the name of "Thaxted
Thaxted (tune)
Thaxted is a hymn tune by the British composer Gustav Holst, based on the stately theme from the middle section of the Jupiter movement of his orchestral suite The Planets and named after the English village where he resided much of his life...

", specifically for the words "I Vow to Thee My Country". (According to the documentary by Tony Palmer In the Bleak Midwinter, Holst hated this association because the text was the opposite of what he believed. This is a little surprising, though, since he had made the adaptation himself in 1921.) His daughter Imogen later recalled of "I Vow to Thee" that "At the time when he was asked to set these words to music, Holst was so over-worked and over-weary that he felt relieved to discover they 'fitted' the tune from Jupiter".

While living in Thaxted, Holst became friendly with Rev. Conrad Noel
Conrad Noel
Conrad le Despenser Roden Noel was an English priest of the Church of England. Known as the "Red Vicar" of Thaxted, he was a prominent British Christian Socialist...

, the famous 'Red Vicar', who supported the Independent Labour Party
Independent Labour Party
The Independent Labour Party was a socialist political party in Britain established in 1893. The ILP was affiliated to the Labour Party from 1906 to 1932, when it voted to leave...

 and espoused many unpopular causes. Holst became an occasional organist and choir master at Thaxted Parish Church and began an annual music festival at Whitsuntide in 1916, at which students from Morley College and St Paul's School performed. His best-known partsong, 'This Have I Done For My True Love' , was dedicated to Noel and often performed with dancing during religious ceremonies at Thaxted. This was controversial, as the Church of England still retained much of the Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 ethic in its services. (The singing of non-biblical texts had been allowed only as recently as 1820, and religious dancing harked back to pre-Reformation
Reformation
- Movements :* Protestant Reformation, an attempt by Martin Luther to reform the Roman Catholic Church that resulted in a schism, and grew into a wider movement...

 times.) As late as 1951 at the Leith Hill Festival, singers from the Anglican tradition objected to the words of Holst's partsong, which mention dance and religion together. Vaughan Williams, who was conducting, advised the objectors to vocalise and leave the words to those singers who did not share the inhibition. Controversy surrounded Holst's friendship with Noel, whose opinions grew progressively uncompromising, leading to his displaying the Red Flag
Red flag
In politics, a red flag is a symbol of Socialism, or Communism, or sometimes left-wing politics in general. It has been associated with left-wing politics since the French Revolution. Socialists adopted the symbol during the Revolutions of 1848 and it became a symbol of communism as a result of its...

 and that of Sinn Fein
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 in the church. Holst's view was that Noel's philosophy was a "gospel of comic hate", but he ceased to hold the music festival at Thaxted after three seasons, moving it to Dulwich.

Other tunes that also became attached to hymns were Cranham which is the usual tune to Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti
Christina Georgina Rossetti was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems...

's poem In the Bleak Midwinter
In the Bleak Midwinter
"In the Bleak Midwinter" is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti written before 1872 in response to a request from the magazine Scribner's Monthly for a Christmas poem....

and Sheen which is attached to a versification of the recessional From glory to glory advancing from the Orthodox Christian Liturgy of Saint James.

World War I and after


At the onset of World War I, Holst tried to enlist but was rejected because of his bad eyes, bad lungs and bad digestion. He dropped the "von" from his name in 1916 in response to anti-German sentiment, making it official by deed poll
Deed poll
A deed poll is a legal document binding only to a single person or several persons acting jointly to express an active intention...

 in 1918.
His new music, however, benefited from the growing demand for new English music. This was partly in response to an embargo on contemporary German music that saw very few performances of Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

 and Max Reger
Max Reger
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger was a German composer, conductor, pianist, organist, and academic teacher.-Life:...

 throughout the war (although older generations of German composers remained as popular as ever, culminating in a run of Die Walküre
Die Walküre
Die Walküre , WWV 86B, is the second of the four operas that form the cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen , by Richard Wagner...

, conducted by Thomas Beecham, in 1918). Towards the end of the war he was offered a post within the YMCA
YMCA
The Young Men's Christian Association is a worldwide organization of more than 45 million members from 125 national federations affiliated through the World Alliance of YMCAs...

’s educational work programme as musical director and he set off for Salonica (present day Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...

, Greece) and Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 (now Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul , historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople , is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe after London and...

) in 1918. While he was teaching music to troops eager to escape the drudgery of army life, The Planets was being performed to audiences back home. Shortly after his return after the war’s end, Holst composed Ode to Death, based upon a poem by Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman
Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse...

.

During the years 1920–1923, Holst's popularity grew through the success of The Planets and The Hymn of Jesus (1917) (based on the Apocryphal gospels), and the publication of a new opera, The Perfect Fool
The Perfect Fool
The Perfect Fool is an opera in one act with music and libretto by the English composer Gustav Holst. Holst composed the work over the period of 1918 to 1922. The opera received its premiere at the Covent Garden Theatre, London on 14 May 1923...

(a satire of a work by Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

). Holst became something of "an anomaly, a famous English composer", and was busy with conducting, lecturing and teaching obligations. He hated publicity; he often refused to answer questions posed by the press and when asked for his autograph, handed out prepared cards that read, "I do not hand out my autograph". Always frail, after a collapse in 1923 he retired from all teaching (other than at St Paul's School, where he would remain until his death) to devote the remaining eleven years of his life to composition.

Later life


Holst's 'retirement' was immediately productive, with the First Choral Symphony
First Choral Symphony
British composer Gustav Holst wrote his First Choral Symphony in 1923–24. It was premiered in Leeds Town Hall on October 7, 1925, conducted by Albert Coates and with Dorothy Silk as soloist...

to words by Keats (a Second Choral Symphony to words by George Meredith exists only in fragments). A short Shakespearian opera, At the Boar's Head
At the Boar's Head
At the Boar's Head is an opera in one act by the English composer Gustav Holst, his op. 42. Holst himself described the work as "A Musical Interlude in One Act". The libretto, by the composer himself, is based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2.Holst devised the idea for this...

, followed quickly, although neither had the immediate popular appeal of A Moorside Suite for brass band of 1928.

Holst took advantage of new technology to publicise his work through sound recordings and the BBC’s wireless broadcasts. He began to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra is a major orchestra of the United Kingdom, as well as one of the best-known orchestras in the world. Since 1982, the LSO has been based in London's Barbican Centre.-History:...

 for the Columbia
Columbia Graphophone Company
The Columbia Graphophone Company was one of the earliest gramophone companies in the United Kingdom. Under EMI, as Columbia Records, it became a very successful label in the 1950s and 1960s...

 company in 1922, using the acoustic process; his recordings of the period include Beni Mora , the Marching Song and (remarkably) the complete Planets. Although, as his daughter Imogen noted, he couldn't quite achieve the gradual fade-out of women's voices and orchestra he had written (owing to the limitations of early recording), it was a landmark recording of the work. Holst conducted it again, with the same orchestra and for the same company, in an electrical recording of 1926. All performances have been issued on LP and CD format.

In 1927 he was commissioned by the New York Symphony Orchestra
New York Symphony Orchestra
The New York Symphony Orchestra was founded as the New York Symphony Society in New York City by Leopold Damrosch in 1878. For many years it was a fierce rival to the older Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York. It was supported by Andrew Carnegie who built Carnegie Hall expressly for the...

 to write a symphony. Instead, he wrote an orchestral piece based on Thomas Hardy's Wessex
Thomas Hardy's Wessex
The English author Thomas Hardy set all of his major novels in the south and southwest of England. He named the area "Wessex" after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in this part of that country prior to the Norman Conquest. Although the places that appear in his novels actually exist,...

, a work that became Egdon Heath
Egdon Heath
Egdon Heath is a fictitious area of Thomas Hardy's Wessex inhabited sparsely by the people who cut the furze that grows there. The entire action of Hardy's novel The Return of the Native takes place on Egdon Heath, and it also features in The Mayor of Casterbridge and the short story The Withered...

and which was first performed a month after Hardy’s death, in his memory. By this time, Holst was going out of fashion, and the piece was poorly reviewed (although this may have as much to do with the austere nature of the work). However, Holst is said to have considered the short, subdued but powerful tone poem his "best work" . The piece has been much better received in recent years, with several recordings available. Holst did complete a scherzo for the symphony before his death; this music has been recorded.

Towards the end of his life, Holst wrote Choral Fantasia
Choral Fantasia (Holst)
A Choral Fantasia, Op. 51, is a piece of choral music by Gustav Holst.-Background and composition:The work was written in 1930 by request of organist Herbert Sumsion who wanted a work with a concertante part for organ, to be played at the Three Choirs Festival...

(1930), and he was commissioned by the BBC to write a piece for military band; the resulting Hammersmith was a tribute to the place where he had spent most of his life, a musical expression of the London borough (of Hammersmith
Hammersmith
Hammersmith is an urban centre in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in west London, England, in the United Kingdom, approximately five miles west of Charing Cross on the north bank of the River Thames...

), which begins with an attempt to recreate the haunting sound of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 sleepily flowing its way. He then made an orchestral version of this work for its first performance, sharing the programme with the London premiere of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. This unlucky coincidence may account for its subsequent obscurity as an orchestral work.

Interested as ever in new mediums, Holst wrote a score for the Associated Sound Film Industries picture 'The Bells' in which Holst believed he appeared as an extra in a crowd scene. However, he was mortified when he heard the quality of the 1931 soundtrack. The film was the victim of poor marketing and no copy can now be traced. He also wrote a 'jazz band piece' that his daughter later arranged for orchestra as Capriccio. A late flowering of academic life came when Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 offered him a lectureship for the first six months of 1932.

Holst had a lifetime of poor health, which worsened due to a concussion during a backward fall from the conductor's podium
Podium
A podium is a platform that is used to raise something to a short distance above its surroundings. It derives from the Greek πόδι In architecture a building can rest on a large podium. Podia can also be used to raise people, for instance the conductor of an orchestra stands on a podium as do many...

 in 1923, from which he never fully recovered. In his final four years, Holst grew ill with stomach problems. One of his last compositions, the Brook Green Suite
Brook Green Suite
Gustav Holst's Brook Green Suite was written in 1933 for St Paul's Girls' School junior orchestra.The movements are:#Prelude#Air#Dance...

, named after the land on which St Paul’s Girls’ School was built, was performed for the first time a few months before his death. Holst died on 25 May 1934, of complications following stomach surgery, in London. His ashes were interred at Chichester Cathedral
Chichester Cathedral
The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, otherwise called Chichester Cathedral, is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Chichester. It is located in Chichester, in Sussex, England...

 in West Sussex, with Bishop George Bell
George Bell (bishop)
George Kennedy Allen Bell was an Anglican theologian, Dean of Canterbury, Bishop of Chichester, member of the House of Lords and a pioneer of the Ecumenical Movement.-Early career:...

 giving the memorial oration at the funeral.

Artistic Philosophy


According to his friend Vaughan Williams, Holst once told him two things about art "that ought to be recorded":

"1.) About 'Aristocracy in art' - art is not for all but only for the chosen few - but the only way to find those few is to bring art to everyone - then the artists have a sort of masonic signal by which they recognise each other in the crowd - he put it much better than that - but that is the gist.


2.) That the artist is born again & starts afresh with every new work."

Memorial


On Sunday 27 September 2009, after a weekend of concerts at Chichester Cathedral in memory of Holst, a new memorial was unveiled to the public. On it are inscribed Holst's dates, and an epitaph, taken from the text of The Hymn of Jesus, reading "The heavenly spheres make music for us".

Radio and television biographies


In 2007, BBC Radio 4 produced a radio play by Martyn Wade called The Bringer of Peace, which is an intimate biographical portrait of Holst. The play follows his early dismay at his lack of composing success, to the creation of The Planets suite, with the play's seven tiers following the structure of The Planets. Adrian Scarborough
Adrian Scarborough
Adrian Philip Scarborough is an English character actor and won an Olivier award for best actor in a supporting role in 2011.Scarborough was born in Melton Mowbray, and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, winning the Chesterton Award for Best Actor.In 1993, he was nominated for the Ian...

 played Holst, and the producer was David Hitchinson.

Holst: In the Bleak Midwinter, directed by Tony Palmer, was first transmitted on 24 April 2011. The documentary charted his life with special reference to his support for socialism
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 and for working class ventures.

Media


Extracts from The Planets can be found in the main article
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

for the suite.

Further reading

  • Holst, Imogen, Gustav Holst: A Biography, Oxford University Press, 1938.
  • Holst, Imogen, Gustav Holst and Thaxted (4-page pamphlet)
  • Randel, Michael, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, Harvard University Press, 1996. Cf. p. 390.

External links