Title graphic: Encyclopedia Entries
Holst: 2

An early, sustained addiction to Wagnerian chromaticism was finally cured by the discovery of English folksong, its integration into Holst's style clearly evident in A Somerset Rhapsody (1907). An interest in Hindu literature and philosophy, enlivened through learning Sanskrit, provided a different input, manifest in the economy and restraint of the opera Savitri (from the Mahabharata, trans. Holst, 1908). This harbinger of his later style was overshadowed by the more conventional suites for military band (No. 1, 1909; No, 2, 1911) and especially Holst's masterpiece, the highly colourful orchestral suite The Planets, the war music of Mars acting as a model for countless film scores, and the sturdy, wholesome tune of Jupiter subsequently (and regretably) linked to a patriotic hymn text. The expressive content of The Hymn of Jesus (Apocryphal Acts of St. John, trans. Holst, 1917), an unusual combination of wild dance and mystic contemplation, draws on the best elements of both Savitri and The Planets, but having created a successful alternative to Wagnerian opera in Savitri, it seemed regressive for Holst to resort to Wagnerian parody in his next opera, The Perfect Fool (Holst, 1922), the opening ballet of which acts as a summary of much of the works most attractive music.

Following the bracingly exhuberant Fugal Overture (1922), the Fugal Concerto (1923), a rather bland neoclassical study in diatonic counterpoint, marks a new departure, more persuasively essayed in the Terzetto (1925) for flute, oboe and viola, which is polytonal according to the different key signatures for each instrumental part but in reality sounds at most only occasionally bitonal. The masterpieces of this new style, the bleak landscapes of the orchestral Egdon Heath (1927), a homage to Thomas Hardy, and Betelgeuse from Twelve Songs (H. Wolfe, 1929), numb the spirit. However, a return to human warmth in Hammersmith (1930) for military band and the Scherzo (1934) of a projected symphony suggest a final stylistic synthesis, but one that Holst was unfortunately unable to pursue further.