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.