Title graphic: Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934)
Holst: 1

An English composer and teacher of Scandinavian descent, Gustavus Theodore von Holst was a contemporary and close friend of Vaughan Williams, whom he met in 1895. They shared many enthusiasms in common, including one for folksong, and on "field days" discussed each other's works in progress. Like Vaughan Williams, Holst took an active part in amateur music making and directed annual informal festivals at Thaxted, Essex, from 1916. Retiring by nature, he was bewildered by the success of The Planets and The Hymn of Jesus, and during the 1920s he developed a more astringent style in pursuit of his ideal of "tender austerity", best exemplified in the Lyric Movement for violin and chamber orchestra (1933), his penultimate work. He refused all official honours except the Howland Memorial Prize, for distinction in the arts, from Yale University (1924) and the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society (1930).

Born in Cheltenham, the son of a piano and harp teacher, Holst received little encouragement to become a composer. Even at the Royal College of Music, London (1893-8), he found composition lessons with Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) unsatisfactory, although he welcomed his teacher's advice to develop self-criticism. While a student, he conducted the Hammersmith Socialist Choir, and in 1901 married the choir's youngest soprano, Isobel Harrison. On leaving the college, Holst earned his living as a trombonist before turning to teaching in 1903. Two years later he became the Director of Music at St. Paul's School, Hammersmith, an appointment he held for the rest of his life, and he served as Director of Music at Morley College (from 1907). He undertook additional teaching activities at the Royal College of Music and the University of Reading (both 1919), and was invited to become the Visiting Lecturer in Composition at Harvard in 1932.