Gustav Holst

Through much of the 18th and 19th centuries, English music had been in the doldrums. During this period of time, all the greatest composers, from J.S.Bach and Handel to Wagner and Verdi, were Germans, Austrians, or Italians. The situation changed with Sir Edward Elgar's great contribution to classical music during the early years of the 20th century. After him, a succession of other English composers made a name for themselves in the world music scene.

Gustav Holst was part of this English musical Renaissance. Born 21 September, 1874, in the elegant English spa town of Cheltenham; Holst was the son of an English mother and a Swedish music teacher. In 1893 young Holst entered the Royal College of Music, where he met Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was to become a close personal friend and a decided influence on the composer's work. His friendship with Williams was based, in part, on a common interest in such diverse subjects as old folk songs (he and Williams travelled around England collecting them) and more exotic subjects such as astrology, mythology and Eastern mysticism. His interest in Indian Hinduism even led him to learn to read the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. These esoteric influences at times lend an ethereal and otherworldly, somewhat "foreign" flavour to music that has would otherwise sound very "English". Evidence of this is seen in his suite The Planets - an orchestral showpiece that is one of the most popular of all concert works - convey this mystical, timeless sound. This is what gives Holst such an interesting and individual place in 20th century music.

To earn a living, Holst worked a music teacher at various London schools. Previous to this, he played the trombone for Carl Rosa opera company. He was an inspiring conductor and believed that every pupil who wished to play in the orchestra should be given the opportunity - regardless of ability. Following his appointment as director at St. Paul's Girl' School in Hammersmith in 1905, his encouragement achieved surprisingly good results from some unpromising players. The composer wrote many works for his pupils, of which the St. Paul's Suite is the most popular. In this respect, Holst's career was similar to the great 18th-century composer Antonio Vivaldi. For fifteen years, Vivaldi taught the violin at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for girls in Venice, and wrote many of his five hundred concertos for orchestra there.

In 1901, Holst married Isobel Harrison. Their daughter, Imogen, was born in 1907. Imogen also devoted her life to music - after attending St. Paul's School, she studied composition at the Royal College of Music, then became Artistic Director of the Dartington Hall Arts Centre. For many years Imogen worked with Sir Benjamin Britten at the Aldeburgh Festival. But she is best known for her books on music, especially the music of her father.

Holst composed The Planets between 1914 and 1916. By the time he completed it, Europe was already ravaged by war. The inspiration for the suite came not from the planets of the solar system, but from astrology, in which Holst had began by attaching his own subtitles to each planet. Then, as Holst's daughter later wrote, he simply "let the music have its way with him". The distinguished English conductor Sir Adrian Boult was a great champion of Holst's music, and it was Boult who conducted the first public performance of The Planets in London in 1920, and he later became the work's most celebrated interpreter. With Boult's help, The Planets soon made Holst famous world-wide. This came as a great surprise to the modest composer, who never considered it to be his best work.

In 1923, while conducting, Holst fell from a stage and hit his head. The delayed effects of concussion forced him into temporary retirement the following year. By 1927, Holst was composing again, and was honoured by his hometown, Cheltenham, when they organised a Holst Festival.

Gustav Holst died 25 May, 1934.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1904-1905 In the Bleak Midwinter 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Edwin Bates - Organ
Rodney Christian Fellowship Festival Choir cond. Rodney Smith Bishton

1906-1907 A Somerset Rhapsody op.21 no.2 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Bournemouth Sinfonietta cond. Norman del Mar

1907-1908 Vedic Hymns, Op. 24: Varuna 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Frederick Harvey - Baritone
Gerald Moore - Piano

1909 Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, Opus 26: 2nd Group 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Baccholian Singers of London

1909 First Suite for Military Band 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Central Band of the Royal Air Force cond. Imogen Holst

1909 Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, Opus 26: 4th Group Hymn to Manas 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Baccholian Singers of London

1909-1910 Beni Mora Opus 29 No 1 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

BBC Symphony Orchestra cond, Sir Malcolm Sargent

1911 Second Suite for Military Band 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Central Band of the Royal Air Force cond. Imogen Holst

1912 Psalm 86 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Ian Partridge - Tenor
Ralph Downes - Organ

1912-1913 St. Paul's Suite Opus 29 No 2 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Malcolm Sargent

1913 The Homecoming 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
Baccholian Singers of London
1914 A Dirge for Two Veterans 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Baccholian Singers of London
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble cond. Ian Humphris

1914 The Planets 4.50 stars CD
The Planets Comments:
Original versiom

Royal Scottish National Orchestra cond. Sir Alexander Gibson

1914 The Planets 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir cond. Sir Adrian Boult

1914 The Planets 4.00 stars LP
The Planets Comments:
Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Herbert von Karajan
1914 The Planets 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
BBC Singers
BBC Philharmonic cond. Charles Mackerras

Recorded from BBC Proms 2009

1914 The Planets 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
Elysian Singers (women's voices)
BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Susanna Mälkki

Recorded live at the BBC Proms 2015

1916 Choral Folksongs Opus 36B 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
Baccholian Singers of London
1916 Turn back, O man 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Richard Seal - Organ
Choir of Chichester Cathedral cond. John Birch

1916 Bring us in good ale Opus 34 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
The King's Singers
1916 Lullay my liking, Opus 34 No. 2 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Arranged for boys' voices by Imogen Holst

London Boy Singers cond. Jonathan Steele

1916 Personent Hodie 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Bach Choir & Jacques Orchestra cond. Sir David Willcocks

1917 The Hymn of Jesus 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
Choristers of St. Paul's Cathedral Choir
London Symphony Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Charles Groves
1919 Short Festival Te Deum 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
London Symphony Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Charles Groves
1919 Ode to Death 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus cond. Sir Charles Groves

1918-1922 The Perfect Fool (Ballet Music) 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

London Symphony Orchestra cond. Andre Previn

1918-1922 The Perfect Fool (Ballet Music) 4.50 stars LP
Comments:

BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Charles Groves

Recorded at The Last Night at the Proms

1922 A Fugal Concerto op.40 no.2, for Flute. Obeo and Strings 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Jonathan Snowden - Flute
David Theodore - Oboe

English Chamber Orchestra cond. Yehudi Menuhin

1922 A Fugal Concerto op.40 no.2, for Flute. Obeo and Strings 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Jonathan Snowden - Flute
David Theodore - Oboe

English Chamber Orchestra cond. Yehudi Menuhin

1923-1924 First Coral Symphone 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
Felicity Palmer - Soprano
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Adrian Boult
1924 At the Boar's Head 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Philip Langridge
John Tomlinson
Elise Ross
Felicity Palmer
David Wilson-Johnson
Peter Hall
Richard Suar
Michael George

Men's voices of the Liverpool Philharmonic Choir
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra cond. David Atherton

1929-1930 The Wandering Scholar Opus 50 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Michael Rippon
Norma Burrowes
Michael Langdon
Robert Tear

English Opera Group & English Chamber Orchestra cond. Steuart Bedford

1931 Hammersmith, Prelude and Scherzo Opus 52 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Central Band of the Royal Air Force cond. Wing Commander J.L. Wallace

1931-1932 Six Choruses for Male Voices and Strings 4.00 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
Baccholian Singers of London
English Chamber Orchestra cond. Ian Humphris
1932 Eight Canons 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:
- The Fields of Sorrow
- Lament for Jonathan
- Truth of all Truth

Baccholian Singers of London

1933 Brook Green Suite for Strings 4.50 stars 6 CD
The Planets Comments:

Bournemouth Sinfonietta cond. Norman del Mar