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Gustav Holst

Birth And Family

Gustav Holst, born in Cheltenham in 1874, came from a family of renowned musicians that spanned three generations.1)

Hard Beginning

Gustav aspired to be a pianist but was stopped from doing so due to neuritis. He described his right arm as feeling “like a jelly overloaded with electricity”.2)

Early Experience

Gustav began playing the trombone when he was 12 years old. He was appointed organist at a Gloucestershire church five years later.3)

Gilbert And Sullivan

Holst composed the music for an operetta in the manner of Gilbert and Sullivan in 1892. The composition was highly received when it was performed at Cheltenham's Corn Exchange. Despite his father's doubts, its popularity inspired him to continue composing.4)


Sir Charles Villiers Stanford taught Holst composition at the Royal College of Music.5)


His primary inspirations included Mendelssohn, Chopin, Grieg, and, most notably, Sir Arthur Sullivan. Holst later became a Wagnerite, as were many other musicians of his day.6)

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Holst met Ralph Vaughan Williams shortly after his 21st birthday, who became a lifetime friend and had a significant effect on Holst's music. The two aspiring songwriters became each other's worst critics.7)

Isobel Holst

Holst met Isobel Harrison, a soprano, while leading the Hammersmith Socialist Choir. He fell in love with her; she was initially unimpressed, then she changed her mind and they married.8)


Holst played the trombone professionally since he couldn't sustain himself solely via composing. In 1897, he performed at the Queen's Hall under the command of composer Richard Strauss.9)


From 1905 until his death, Holst was the director of music at St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, and from 1907 to 1924, he was the director of music at Morley College. St Paul's constructed a new music wing in 1913, and Holst wrote his St Paul's Suite to commemorate the event. The new facility has a sound-proof chamber where he could work quietly.10)

Literature Inspiration

Literature was a frequent source of inspiration for Holst. He adapted Hardy and Whitman's words to music. He was especially fascinated by old religious Sanskrit scriptures, particularly the Rig Veda songs. His translation settings included Sita, a three-act opera based on a Ramayana narrative, and Savitri, a chamber opera based on a Mahabharata story.11)

Beni Mora

On medical advice, he traveled to Algeria in 1908. The trip inspired his suite Beni Mora, which included music he heard on the streets of Algeria.12)


Holst and his Morley College pupils performed Purcell's The Fairy Queen for the first time since the 17th century in June 1911.13)


During a vacation in Spain, the writer Clifford Bax — the composer Arnold Bax's brother – introduced Holst to astrology, which inspired his suite The Planets. Holst spent the remainder of his life casting horoscopes for his pals and referred to astrology as his “pet vice”.14)

The Planets

The Planets premiered on September 29, 1918, to an invited audience that included Sir Henry Wood and the majority of London's professional musicians. Sir Adrian Boult premiered The Planets to the general public five months later, at a concert in February 1919; however, he only performed five of the seven movements on that occasion, believing that the audience would be unable to handle the entire piece.15)


Gustav Holst died on May 25, 1934, at the age of 59, of heart failure caused by an ulcer procedure. His ashes were placed at Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, beside the grave to his favorite Tudor composer, Thomas Weelkes.16)

gustav_holst.txt · Last modified: 2022/02/22 01:28 by eziothekilla34