Faber Music has recently made a number of orchestral and choral works by Imogen Holst (1907-1984) available for performance worldwide. These publications continue Faber Music’s longstanding relationship with the composer, having previously taken on the composer's 1982 String Quintet decades ago. See a full list of available works here.

Holst was a critical figure in the history of post-war British music as composer, conductor, musicologist, editor, and educator, working closely with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the young Colin Matthews on her father’s music, and helping to set up what would become the Dartington International Summer School, as well as serving co-director of the Aldeburgh Festival. NMC will release the debut recording of several of the works listed below in summer 2024, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Singers, conducted by Alice Farnham.  

Holst wrote Persephone (1929) whilst a student at the Royal College of Music, where it received its first performance from Malcolm Sargent. A 12-minute work for large orchestra, with harp and celesta, the work bears no explicit programme, though the evocative score reflects the mythological suggestions of the title. It opens with  delicate shimmering in strings and arpeggiated figures in the woodwinds, with glittering interjections from harp and celesta; the musical textures are richly suggestive of Ravel and Debussy.

As the work progresses, the more modal, folk-like melodic material characteristic of Holst’s music emerges. One striking episode sees muted strings slowly rising from the very lowest register through in quasi-fugal imitation, before a shattering climax from brass, percussion, and strings emerges and recedes. The piece close closes with a reprise of the opening but growing this time to incandescent peak.

On Westhall Hill is a 5 ½-minute work for a small orchestra of single woodwinds, strings, timpani, and one percussionist. It is named for the house in Burford where Captain and Mrs Kettlewell, leading members of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, lived. The date of the work is not known, but Imogen Holst moved to the address given on the title-page of the manuscript in October 1935, and in later life she herself assigned it to the ‘mid 1930s’.

A tribute to the Kettlewells, the piece was very likely written for one of the many special events for which she directed the EFDSS orchestra. The music is based on two folk tunes, not identified: an ethereal, mysterious opening frames a vivacious central sequence with scurrying woodwinds taking the melodic lead, before a more declamatory and majestic restatement of the first material closes the piece. View the score here.

Imogen Holst composed Festival Anthem, a setting of Psalm 104, in August and September 1946. She dedicated it to Dorothy Elmhirst, who with her husband Leonard established then then crumbling Dartington Estate as a creative and cultural experiment in 1925. Originally scored for SSATB chorus and organ or piano, this edition for strings and voices has been created by Colin Matthews for the forthcoming NMC recording. The 18-minute work begins with a broad statement of a stately melodic idea, in rich, choral textures, before more nimble passagework from voices and strings ensues, followed in turn by more playful, dance-like sequences.

The Suite for String Orchestra is cast in four movements and received its first performance at Wigmore Hall in 1943, conducted by the composer. The 15-minute piece opens with a lilting Prelude in 5/8 whose groupings of three and two beats fluctuate throughout with shifting time signatures; it is succeeded by a rambunctious fugue with a rugged folk-like subject in three. The third movement is a limpid intermezzo with a spotlight on a solo violin in its middle section. The finale is a scurrying Gigue (presto) that also carries the imprint of folk melodies, and sees the solo violin reappear. It will be performed at this summer's Aldeburgh Festival by Britten Sinfonia on 13 June

Premiering at the same concert in 1943 as the Suite, Three Psalms combines strings and SSAATB chorus in a 14 ½-minute triptych. It begins with a searching setting of Psalm 80 (Give ear, O shepherd of Israel), followed by Psalm 56 (Be merciful unto me, O God), in which ATB only are accompanied by violas, cellos, and double basses. Ethereal, transparent textures return in the final movement, a setting of Psalm 91 (He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high) which sees both voices and strings divide. Three Psalms was recorded in 2012 by Graham Ross, the Dimitri Ensemble, and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge.

Contact promotion@fabermusic.com for further information, hire enquiries, and updates about future publications of Imogen Holst’s music.