Friday, May 25, 2007

Gustav Holst

On this day in 1934, English composer and educator Gustav Holst died at the age of 59. Born in 1874, Holst was born into a musical family—the grandson of a harpist, his father was an organist, pianist, and choirmaster, and his mother was a singer. Holst began composing around the age of twelve having already learned to play the piano and violin.

He studied music at the Royal College of Music in London where he met his fellow student, and lifelong friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams. In 1905 he became the Director of Music St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London—a post he held over the next two decades.

Along with Vaughan Williams, Holst became interested in the simplicity and distinctiveness of English folk songs. These melodies greatly influenced his own compositions.

Holst liked to ramble and walked extensively throughout England as well as France, Italy, and Spain. He traveled also to Algeria, Arab areas of the world, and completed a bicycle tour of the Algerian Sahara. He believed that the best way to elarn about a city was to get lost in it.

Holst wrote more than 200 works (including ballets, opera, songs, and brass ensemble works), but by far his most famous is the orchestral suite The Planets (1916). This piece is divided into seven movements and each relates a different personality. For instance, Mars is the bringer of war and the music reflects the bellicose nature of the planet (so much so that Han Zimmer quoted elements of this movement for the soundtrack to Gladiator). The Planets made Holst celebrity and kept him busy composing, conducting, and lecturing.

In 2007, BBC Radio 4 presented a radio drama called “The Bringer of Peace” which was a biographical play about Holst and the creation of The Planets.


CSUF Rock Star said...

The Planets have been on my mind this past semester, as I've listened to the piece several times at work and our school orchestra performed it several weeks ago. I was aware of Zimmer's use of Mars in the soundtrack to Gladiator; but the question that plagues me is, where have I heard the chorale from Jupiter before? The middle section of the Jupiter movement is terribly familiar but I haven't yet discovered why. I think it may be a popular theme for movie trailers, perhaps. If you happen to know and wouldn't mind sharing, I'd be much obliged....

AJ Harbison
The Matrix Has You

Greg said...


I actually used that middle part as a processional in our weddnig years ago. It's original to the Jupiter movement, but it was later extracted and turned into a song ("I Vow to Thee My Country" I believe)and later still turned into a hymn. AS for movie trailers, I'm not sure. If you run across it, let me know.


Jacob said...

The Trinity Hymnal uses the tune for #660, O God beyond All Praising. Great tune and great words.

I've also heard an arrangement by John Haines from Kirk of the Hills in St. Louis use the tune with the text from "Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus" with an original refrain. I've used this the past two Easters and it has been great.

Does anyone know where the tune name THAXTED comes from?

Jacob Tilton

Adrian C. Keister said...

I enjoy his two Suites for Band quite as much as the Planets.

In Christ,