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Famous Like Me > Composer > H > Gustav Holst

Profile of Gustav Holst on Famous Like Me

Name: Gustav Holst  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 21st September 1874
Place of Birth: Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, UK
Profession: Composer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Gustav Holst

Gustavus Theodore von Holst (September 21, 1874 – May 25, 1934) was an English composer with Latvian, Swedish, and Spanish roots. He dropped the 'von' from his name during World War I for fear of being identified as German, in the same way as the royal house was renamed the House of Windsor in 1917.


Born in Cheltenham, where he was educated at Pate's Grammar School, he went on to study at the Royal College of Music in London. His best-known work is probably his orchestral suite The Planets, completed in 1916, although the composer himself did not count it as one of his best creations and later often complained that other works were completely eclipsed by it. The Planets (1914–1916) was partly inspired by meditations on his own horoscope/natal chart and dealt with the "seven influences of destiny and constituents of our spirit." Holst was especially influenced by a 19th-century astrologer called Raphael, whose book concerning the planets' role in world affairs led Holst to develop the grand vision of the planets that made The Planets suite such an enduring success.

Holst wrote The Planets while a music teacher at St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith in London. He composed a successful and still popular work for the school orchestra St Paul's Suite in 1913. In 1930, he composed Hammersmith: a musical expression of the borough which begins with an attempt to recreate the haunting sound of the River Thames sleepily flowing its way. The music wing of the school was named in his honour.

Holst's output for the wind band, though relatively small, guaranteed him a position as the medium's cornerstone, as seen in innumerable present-day programmes featuring his two Suites for Military Band. His one work for brass band, A Moorside Suite, remains an important part of the brass band repertoire.

Like many composers, Holst also played a musical instrument, in his case the trombone (a choice dictated by a medical condition that robbed him of the manual dexterity required for more obvious instruments such as the piano). To earn a living in the era before he had a satisfactory income from his compositions, he played the trombone in a popular orchestra called the "White Viennese Band", conducted by one Stanislas Wurm. The music was cheap and repetitive and not to Holst's liking. He referred to this kind of work as "Worming" and regarded it as "criminal". Fortunately his need to "worm" came to an end as his compositions became more successful, and his income was given stability by his teaching at St Paul's Girls' School and Morley College. His golden period was during the First World War, during which he wrote two of his most enduringly popular works - The Planets, which received its first, private, performance under Adrian Boult in 1918, and two years later the choral/orchestral masterpiece The Hymn of Jesus. On the strength of these successes Holst became an international star. He had a dedicated public eager to hear more of the same.

It was not to be, however. His next large-scale work, the 1925 First Choral Symphony, failed to inspire. Even his closest friend and supporter, fellow composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, was guarded in his praise of it. Egdon Heath and Hammersmith followed in 1928 and 1930 respectively. They received better notices. But to contemporary audiences (and to most listeners since) the Holst magic, the luminous sonorities, the strange, other-worldly harmonies, was not there. He may still have been able to reach the heights, but in general he was not able to take his audience with him.

According to his biographer Ian Lace, "Gustav Holst was frugal. He never smoked nor drank. Since leaving home he had also become a strict vegetarian. But vegetarianism was not encouraged in his cheap lodgings in the 1890's. Since he was never given a completely nourishing meal, his eyes became very weak and his hand remained in constant pain."

From 1933 Holst suffered from severe stomach problems. On May 25, 1934 he died of complications, following surgery in London. He is buried in Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex.

His daughter Imogen Holst was also a composer and conductor.


First Suite In E-Flat For Military Band - Chaconne (info)
First Suite In E-Flat For Military Band - Intermezzo (info)
First Suite In E-Flat For Military Band - March (info)
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Other works

  • The Mystic Trumpeter (1904)
  • A Somerset Rhapsody (1907)
  • Savitri opera(1908)
  • First Suite for Military Band in Eb (1909)
    1. Chaconne
    2. Intermezzo
    3. March
  • Beni Mora (Oriental Suite) Op.29 No.1 (1909 – 1910)
    1. First Dance
    2. Second Dance
    3. Finale
  • Two Eastern Pictures (1911)
  • Second Suite for Military Band in F (1911)
    1. March: Morris Dance, Swansea Town, Claudy Banks
    2. Song Without Words "I'll Love my Love"
    3. Song of the Blacksmith
    4. Fantasia on the "Dargason"
  • Psalm 86 H.117 No.2 (Psalmo 86), (1912)
  • Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda (1908 – 1912)
    1. First Group (for women's chorus and orchestra) (H.96)
      1. Battle Hymn
      2. To the Unknown God
    2. Second Group (for chorus and orchestra) (H.98)
      1. To Varuna (God of the Waters)
      2. To Agni (God of Fire)
      3. Funeral Chant
    3. Third Group (for women's chorus and harp) (H.99)
      1. Hymn to the Dawn
      2. Hymn to the Waters
      3. Hymn to Vena (Sun rising through the mist)
      4. Hymn of the Travelers
    4. Fourth Group (for men's chorus and orchestra (H.100)
      1. Hymn to Sama (the juice of an herb)
      2. Hymn to Manas (the spirit of a dying man)
  • Two Eastern Pictures (for women's voices and harp) (H.112)
    1. Spring
    2. Summer
  • St. Paul's Suite Op.29 No.2 (Finale is another arrangement of 4th movement in Second Suite) (1913)
    1. Jig
    2. Ostinato
    3. Intermezzo
    4. Finale (The Dargason)
  • Hymn to Dionysus Op.31 No.2(H.116) (1913)
  • The Hymn of Jesus (1917)
  • Ode to Death 1919
  • Short Festival Te Deum (H.145) (1919)
  • The Perfect Fool Op.39 ballet (1918–1922)
  • At the Boar's Head (1924)
  • Egdon Heath, (1927)
  • A Moorside Suite (1928)
    1. Scherzo
    2. Nocturne
    3. March
  • The Wandering Scholar opera, (1929 – 1930)
  • Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo (1930)
  • Lyric Movement (1933)
  • Brook Green Suite (H.190) (1933)
    1. Prelude
    2. Air
    3. Dance

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Gustav Holst