WorldView Episode 27: Gustav Holst

      Despite international fame after the publication of his work “The Planets”, Gustav Holst remained relatively unknown during his life. He wrote hundreds of opus works, but his hermit-like lifestyle and dislike of the spotlight turned away most musical audiences. Now, almost one hundred years after his death, he has become one of the most recognizable names in post-romantic classical music. 

      Gustavos Theodore von Holst was born in Gloucestershire in 1874, one in a long line of professional instrumentalists. After an injury derailed his dream of becoming a pianist, he focused on composition; Holst studied with Charles Villiers Stanford (WorldView ep. 23) at the Royal College of Music, were he also met Ralph Vaughan Williams. The composer, struggling to support himself, took up trombone and taught it with great success for much of his life. 

      A brief stint with a professional orchestra helped fuel Holst’s interests in orchestral composition. The job also provided an income steady enough to focus on writing and to marry his long time fianceé, Isobel, in 1901.  After an extended stay in Germany in 1903, the composer re-evaluated his career and left the orchestra, soon filling multiple teaching roles at local schools. His now long-time friend Vaughan Williams encouraged him to join the growing nationalist music movement in Britain, and Holst responded with an added emphasis on folk music in his works. 

      Holst was introduced to astrology on holiday in Spain, a hobby which inspired his most well-known work. “The Planets” was premiered in 1918 at a YMCA sponsored event, to celebrate Holst’s new position as war-time musical organizer for the organization. The piece became immensely popular, and increased demand for the composer well into his late forties. However, health complications in the 1920s caused him to largely withdraw from public appearances; with very few orchestral successes, interest in his work waned. He died of heart failure in 1934, and much of his career was ignored until the 1980s. 

      “St. Paul’s Suite”, Holst’s work featured in episode twenty-seven of WorldView, was written for students at St. Paul’s Girls’ School. The composer served as the music master of the institution from 1905 to his death in 1934, and published several pieces dedicated to his pupils. In this hour, “St. Paul’s Suite” is performed by Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on a disc released in 1988. 


WorldView Episode Twenty-Seven Playlist:

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, “Symphony No. 4 in F minor”, {New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult} – EMI Classics

Juli NUNLIST, “Twelve Bagatelles for Solo Flute”, {Leone Buyse} – Crystal Records

Gustav HOLST, “St. Paul’s Suite, Op. 29”, {Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent} – EMI Classics


WorldView is a classical music radio show featuring composers from everywhere in the world – except Western Europe. Tune in to hear works by lesser-known artists such as Gabriela Montero and Bright Sheng, and widen your knowledge of classical music. Hinke Younger hosts each week’s episode of WorldView on Mondays at 9AM and again at 6PM on

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