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Gustav Holst

(1874 - 1934)

Holst was born on September 24th in 1874 at 4 Clarence Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England to a family of Swedish extraction.

(He was originally named Gustavus Theodor von Holst but he dropped the von from his name in response to anti-German sentiment in Britain during World War I)

Holst learned piano from an early age, but he, stricken with a nerve condition that affected the movement of his right hand in adolescence, gave up the piano for the trombone, which was less painful to play.

To earn a living in the era before he had a satisfactory income from his compositions, he played the trombone in the Carl Rosa Opera Company and in a popular orchestra called the 'White Viennese Band'.

He went on to become a music teacher and composer and, in 1898, joined the Carl Rosa Opera and the Scottish orchestra as trombonist.

Holst later became director of music in various important British schools and he was also professor of composition at the Royal College of Music and at Reading University.

His music had a variable reception in his life-time, but he exercised a strong influence on later English composers.

Gustav Holst had a lifetime of poor health worsened by a concussion during a backward fall from the conductor's podium, from which he never fully recovered.

Holst died of complications following stomach surgery, in London, on May 25, 1934.

His ashes were interred at Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex, with Bishop George Bell giving the memorial oration at the funeral.

Holst wrote a number of works for the theatre, their subjects reflecting his varied interests, from Hindu mythology to Shakespeare and the medieval world of the Wandering Scholar.

From his final chamber opera "The Perfect Fool", first staged in 1923, with its parodies of Verdi and Wagner, comes a better known ballet suite.

The opera itself is seldom performed.

As a choral conductor, Holst wrote a considerable amount of choral music, accompanied and unaccompanied, including arrangements of folk-songs, and a smaller number of solo songs.

By far the best known of all Holst's compositions is "The Planets", a sequence of seven movements, reflecting the composer's interest in astrology and the generally attributed qualities of each, with Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity, providing the melody for a popular patriotic hymn, while Mars, The Bringer of War, suggests the period of composition, between 1914 and 1916.

For string orchestra he wrote the St. Paul's Suite, completed in 1913, and in 1933 the Brook Green Suite.

The two Suites for military bands were written in 1911.

His Suite de ballet, Opus 10, was written in 1899 and revised in 1912.


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