Whilst still in his teens, Gustav Holst (1874–1934) became organist and choirmaster in a Gloucestershire village and throughout his life never lost his close association with practical music making and teaching, or his preoccupation with English folk music. At the same time, he was the most open minded of composers with wide ranging interests and sympathies, always ready to grasp new suggestions and ideas.
The fusion of the two sides of his musical character resulted in a series of strikingly original works. His breadth of interest and wide cultural preoccupations are seen, for example, in the Hindu inspired chamber opera Savitri; his later opera—The Wandering Scholar—which he completed only a few years before his death, uses a libretto by Clifford Bax taken from an incident in Helen Waddell’s ‘The Wandering Scholars’ and is set in thirteenth century France.
His remarkable, individual use of the orchestra is seen in the large-scale suite The Planets, a work which has deservedly taken its place among the major orchestral masterpieces of the twentieth century. His interest in folk music and in providing music suitable for good amateur orchestras is shown in the St Paul’s Suite and Brook Green Suite. Such completely different and original works as the jazz-influenced Capriccio, and the Double Violin Concerto show varied aspects of the work of this British composer.