Gustav Holst was born Sept. 21, 1874, and died May 25, 1934, at the age of 59. He was born into a family of musicians, going back three generations. His grandfather had been a Latvian composer of harp music who moved to England. Holst was a natural at music, learning the piano and violin at a young age. Unfortunately, he had a nerve issue in his right hand and was unable to continue playing piano. He switched to trombone and spent many years playing to supplement his composing income.
After his education at a boys school, he attended the Royal College of Music. He learned composition and met Ralph Vaughn Williams, another composer who became a lifelong friend. Largely influenced by the music of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, Holst’s compositions grew and changed. While in London a bit later, he became interested in ancient texts, the Hindu philosophy, and learned Sanskrit so he could translate his own pieces. This influenced much of his writing and many of his pieces.
Holst was also influenced by the writings of George Bernard Shaw and William Morris, both outspoken socialists. Other writers were also influential for Holst, including Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, and Robert Bridges. The world that Holst was living and working in was changing and growing quickly, moving from the Romantic era of art and music into the 20th century.
Holst married a soprano from one of the choirs his directed and they seem to have had a pleasant life. They had one daughter, Isobel, that is noted in most biographies.
Holst is most well known for an orchestral piece, The Planets. This is a seven movement pieces, each movement named for one of the planets known at the time. Most popular of these are “Jupiter – Bringer of Jollity” and “Mars – Bringer of War.” This piece came about after a period where Holst traveled to Spain with Arthur Bax, his brother Clifford Bax, and Balfour Gardiner. Clifford Bax introduced him to astrology and he became fascinated with it. This fascination with the stars and skies led to what became the orchestral suite The Planets. The piece was almost immediately popular and this seems to have been an area of irritation to Holst since he was not completely pleased with this piece. This piece did, however, secure his financial situation.
Holst spent the second half of his life teaching, particular at St. Paul’s Girls School. He began teaching there in 1904 and taught there until the end of his life. He wrote the St. Paul’s Suite for the opening of the music wing at the girls school. He also taught at Morley College. The students of Morley College helped transcribe the 500 page score a newly found piece by 17th century composer Henry Purcell. The students wrote out the score, orchestra parts, and vocal parts for The Fairy Queen and then they performed it. It was a stunning success.
From his Indian influences, many works emerged. One of the best known is the grand opera Sita. He also wrote songs with vedic settings. Another piece included in this influence set would be Sivitri, which is a chamber opera.
Not mentioned in many biographies about Holst is his wind band music. He was actually a fairly driving force in the early stages of wind bands of the early 20th centure. His military band music is still important in the band world today. He wrote First Suite in E-flat for Military Band in 1909 and Second Suite in F Major for Military Band in 1911. Neither of these pieces appear to have been premiered until the early 1920s.
Holst experimented with music of all sorts and writing styles of all sorts. He wrote psalms in plainsong, experimented with minimalism, echoed the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote opera like the 16th century composers, set traditional texts to music, used folk songs and elements of them in pieces, and studied, translated, and utilized ancient texts. If you are looking for a composer with a huge range and variety of pieces to experience, Holst is one to study.
Reference materials for Holst:
Note: I know lots of folks do not like Wikipedia. For composers, however, it is a great source list of pieces. You will often find pieces and links to them mentioned in Wikipedia that exist but other biographies do not deem worth mentioning. An example of this is the military suites by Holst. They are a staple of the band world today yet are seldom mentioned in standard biographies.
Lori, At Home.
Thank you for joining me this week for Composer ABCs. Please visit the hosts to find the linky and other participants.
Desiree @ Our Homeschool Notebook (Harry Potter this week!) and
Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses (Homeschool Bloggers this week).
Featured from Week 4 all things ‘G’
- G is for Green over at Our Homeschool Notebook
- G is for Geography at Every Bed of Roses
- G is for Going to the Movies over at A Mom’s Quest to Teach.
- Homeschooling Tips from A to Z: the Letter G over at Homeschooling Highway