About the Society
The English composer Gustav Holst lived from 1874-1934. Since his death over 80 years ago, much of his music has been recorded, particularly over the last 25 years. Nevertheless, there are a number of gaps, with particular regard to choral music for which Holst was renowned.
In contrast, live performances of Holst’s music in the concert hall seem to be in decline. There also appears to be less music by Holst played on the radio. For example, if you were to listen to Classic FM, you would undoubtedly hear movements from The Planets, but little else. In the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2020 (the 300 most popular pieces), The Planets features at number 25, up eight places from 2019. However, no other works by Holst are listed at all.
By way of contrast, Holst's contemporary and great friend Ralph Vaughan Williams had no less than nine works in the Hall of Fame 2020, compared with six in 2019.
However, of all the English composers, Elgar came on top with no less than 10 works.
The BBC Proms always features a performance of The Planets, which is exceptional for a piece of classical music. With regard to other works, the following have been performed in the last seven years:-
2011 Invocation (for 'cello and orchestra) H75
2012 Suite No 2 in F (for wind band) H106
2013 Choral hymns from the Rig Veda (third group) H99
2013 Egdon Heath (for orchestra) H172
2013 Indra (for orchestra) H66
2014 Ave Maria (for chorus) H49
2014 Beni Mora (for orchestra) H107
2014 St Paul’s Suite (for string orchestra) H118
2014 Home they brought her warrior dead (part song) H81
All of this is impressive, were it not for the fact that no music by Holst was performed in 2015 or 2016, apart from The Planets. In 2017 The Perfect Fool was performed, in addition to The Planets. However, in 2018 there was a considerable improvement, namely:-
- 13 July (first night) The Planets
- 27 July Ode to Death
- 6 August Journey's End (a song)
- 20 August Nunc Dimittis
In 2019, the Proms reverted to usual form, namely solely a performance of The Planets.
It is, of concern, that for three consecutive years (2014-2016), no music by Holst was performed at the Three Choirs Festival. In 2017, his music only featured in one concert and was performed by a group of singers. In 2018, there was a performance of The Planets on 29 July. However, no other music of Holst's was featured.
The programme for 2019 included:-
- Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda Groups 1 (H97) and 3 (H99)
- St Paul's Suite (H118)
- The Mystic Trumpeter (H71)
- Spring Song (H52)
- Greeting (H54)
- Maya (H55)
- Scherzo (H92, organ arrangement)
Adrian Partington, director of music at Gloucester Cathedral and director of the Three Choirs Festival for 2019, kindly agreed to include at the conclusion of a choral evensong service in Gloucester Cathedral, a performance of a recent transcription for organ of Holst's Scherzo for orchestra. The transcription has been arranged for two players. The Scherzo was the only movement of Holst's second orchestral symphony completed by the time of his death in 1934. The organ Scherzo has now been recorded and will be included on our new Christmas CD Alpha and Omega (Holst's Christmas and organ music) due to be launched this autumn.
Unfortunately, the Three Choirs Festival due to have taken place in July 2020 at Worcester, has been cancelled. However, it is anticipated that most of the programme will transfer to next year, when the venue will again be Worcester.
The Holst Society is concerned that there is a considerable risk that Holst will, in time, become known as a one-work composer, namely the composer of The Planets, unless action is taken to ensure that his music is played and sung throughout the UK by professional and amateur orchestras, choral societies and other music groups.
In July 1934, the English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972) wrote an article in the Musical Opinion on “The Passing of Gustav Holst”. At the end of the article, Brian said this:-
The best possible way of service is by encouraging performance and to this end there should be a Holst society in every shire of England and in every capital town of the colonies with the parent society having its roots deep down in the hearts of all those who have studied at the Royal College of Music, of which he was most distinguished.
For over 80 years, there has been no Holst society, although his music has been promoted not only by the Holst Birthplace Trust in Cheltenham, but also by the Holst Foundation.
When after eight years as secretary of the Stanford Society, Chris Cope stood down in September 2016, he decided to set up a new English composer society and gave some thought as to which composer was unrepresented and whether there should be a new society in order to promote their life and works.
There are a host of English composer societies, such as the Armstrong Gibbs Society, the Herbert Howells Society, the Stanford Society, the Arthur Bliss Society, the Malcolm Arnold Society, the Peter Warlock Society, the Havergal Brian Society, the Granville Bantock Society, the Gerald Finzi Society, the Vaughan Williams Society, the Delius Society, the Arthur Sullivan Society and the Elgar Society. If we have missed out a society, we apologise.
Surprisingly, some well-known composers are omitted, such as Benjamin Britten, Arnold Bax and Hubert Parry.
However, the particular omission from the above list was that there was no society to support the life and works of Gustav Holst.
Chris Cope decided to set up a Holst Society, which was launched at the English Music Festival at the spring bank holiday weekend in 2017.
Funding of the Society
The Society is registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, number 1175057. Funds for the objects of the Society will be raised through grants, legacies and subscriptions.
Objects of the Society
The objects of the Holst Society are to advance the education of the public in the UK and abroad in the art and science of music in particular by:
- Promoting the knowledge and understanding, through performances and recordings, of the works of Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and an appreciation of his life.
- Encouraging performances of English music, including:
- Promoting high quality events to increase public awareness, understanding and enjoyment of works by Gustav Holst and composers of English music who were contemporaries of his.
- Encouraging and supporting performances of the works of Gustav Holst and his English contemporaries by amateur and professional orchestras, choral societies and other groups of musicians.
- Enabling and encouraging young people to experience the music of Holst and his contemporaries.
It will primarily do this by means of grants to support performances and recordings.
To find out more about supporting the Holst Society, please visit the Support Us page.
Supporting the Society
If you want to support our work please consider joining the society as a member.