Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

Our information pack about Gustav Holst, including his life and works during World War One, is now available for public download.
To download the resource pack, click below:

Holst Resource Pack

Baptised as Gustavus Theodore von Holst, this British composer and teacher was of mixed Scandinavian, German and Latvian ancestry. His reputation had been steadily growing during the years before World War I, his very individual style blending ideas of Hindu philosophy and English folksong. However, he had yet to achieve major success with the public.

On the outbreak of war Holst tried to enlist, but the poor health which plagued him for much of his life prevented him from serving. This depressed him greatly, but he was able to

continue teaching. He spent as much time as he could in the small Essex town of Thaxted, where, due to his name, there was initially some concern that he may be a spy! It was in Thaxted in 1916 that he first established the Whitsun festival in the church for amateur and professional musicians.

Eventually, at the end of the war, the YMCA offered him the post of musical organiser in Salonika and Constantinople for troops awaiting demobilisation. It was at this time that Gustav von Holst, as he was known until this time, dropped the ‘von’ from his name.

Inspired by astrology, The Planets was conceived in 1913. The violent and harshly dissonant first movement, ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’, was actually written early in 1914, before the outbreak of war, and this is followed by the more reflective ‘Venus, the Bringer of Peace’, written in the autumn of that year. The Planets was to be the piece which finally brought Holst public recognition.

The Hymn of Jesus is one of Holst’s finest works and dates from 1917. Using texts from the apocryphal Acts of St John, it is his response to the intense and incomprehensible suffering of the war.

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