Gustav HOLST
21 Sept 1874 - 25 May 1934 (age 59)

Gustav Holst, the English composer, is best known for the very popular 'Planets Suite'. He composed almost 200 other works and had a busy career as a music teacher.






Portrait of Gustav Holst


Born: Gustavus Theodore von Holst, 21 Sept 1874, Cheltenham, England
He dropped the 'von' in 1918 during the 1st World War as it had German connotations.
Grandfather: Gustavus von Holst, harpist, composer and teacher, Riga, Latvia
Father: Adolph von Holst, organist, pianist, choirmaster, teacher.
Mother: Clara von Holst, a singer - died when he was 8.
Stepmother: Mary Thorley Stone
Siblings: a younger brother Emil, an actor with the stage name Ernest Cossart
Wife: Emily Isobel Harrison
Children: Imogen, composer, conductor and biographer.
Died: 25 May 1934
Cause of death: Heart failure following stomach cancer surgery.
Grave: Chichester Cathedral, see findagrave


Output: almost 200 works catalogued
Genres: opera, ballet, orchestral suites, folk music, choral, hymns, songs.
Influenced by: Grieg, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Vaughan-Williams, Ravel
Influenced: Vaughan-Williams, Benjamin Britten
Best known works:
- The Planet Suite
- St.Paul's Suite
- Brook Green Suite
- The Perfect Fool
- Sita
- The Hymn of Jesus
- A Choral Fantasia

The Planets

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox  1 Mars - The Bringer of War
holst postage stamp
2 Venus - The Bringer of Peace 3 Mercury - The Winged Messenger
4 Jupiter -The Bringer of Jollity 5 Saturn - the Bringer of Old Age
6 Uranus - The Magician 7 Neptune - The Mystic

In the Bleak Midwinter -
a Tony Palmer full length film

The inner orbit of Gustav Holst
Did a folksong-loving teacher really just happen to write England's most famous classical work? Film-maker Tony Palmer questions the myth of the author of The Planets.
Article by Tony Palmer in the Guardian

A fascinating new documentary for the BBC giving a revealing insight into this quiet enigmatic man.

First transmitted 24 April 2011.
Read a review here by Jessica Duchen in the Independent
The DVD is now available from Amazon Uk (see right) and will be available from Amazon.com from June14 2011.

Holst in Art
A fascinating collection of images - art, portraits, caricatures, cartoons, album covers and postage stamps.


Educated at Cheltenham Grammar School
His father taught him the piano and violin.
- age 12 started composing
- Studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where he met an became very friendly with fellow student Ralph Vaughan-Williams.
- Owing to the increasing pain when playing the piano he learned to play the trombone. This enabled him earn a living by playing in the Rosa Opera Company, an experience he did not like.
- Became interested in Hinduism. Learned Sanskrit at University College, London. Composed various works based on translations of Sanskrit texts, including Sita.
- Age 31 (1905) appointed Director of Music at St Paul's Girl's School in Hammersmith, London.
- 1907 appointed Director of Music at Morley College, an adult education college. He kept these two important teaching posts until he retired.
- 1912 during a holiday in Spain he 'discovered' astrology which was to inspire his 'Planets Suite' masterpiece. Astrology and horoscopes was a keen interest for the rest of his life.
- 1914 tried to enlist for the World War I but was unsuccessful due to his poor health. However towards the end of the war he got a post as Musical Director at the YMCA and went to Greece and Turkey to tech music to the troops.
- 1923 After a fall he retired from teaching and devoted the rest of his life to composing.

St. Paul's Suite (I. Jig, II. Ostinato)

Japanese Suite (Miyajima Island / Itsukushima Shrine / Mt. Onsen)


“Music-making as a means of getting money is hell”

"Never compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you."

"If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing badly."

"If nobody likes your work, you have to go on just for the sake of the work. And you're in no danger of letting the public make you repeat yourself. Every artist ought to pray that he may not be 'a succes'. If he's a failure he stands a good chance of concentrating upon the best work of which he's capable."

"Music, being identical with heaven, isn't a thing of momentary thrills, or even hourly ones. It's a condition of eternity."

Holst Birthplace Museum

The house in which he was born is now The Holst Birthplace Museum, in Cheltenham, England. It also offers online educational resources on its fine website (click the image).

Links - where to go for more information: 

The Gustav Holst Website

Answers.com collected reference sites including Wikipedia

Holst Birthplace Museum

LastFM a brief biography

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