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"Mr Holst's Room"

I have never forgotten playing Holst's Planets for a friend who was dying of MS. For almost thirty minutes she was transported, taken outside of her skeletal, pain-filled body to an eternal realm of joy.

Recently the Telegraph wrote about the Tony Palmer film which brings viewers the life and music of Gustav Holst. "It is a marvellous, epic film of almost 140 minutes’ duration, and tells the story of this strange, brilliant man who, effectively, worked himself to death just before his 60th birthday." The BBC spin for the film paints Holst as a red Socialist revolutionary. That's nonsense. One might as well call him militaristic because he volunteered to serve in World War One. (He was rejected due to bad eyes, bad digestion and bad lungs.)

Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham in 1874, "Holst was a professional musician who lived entirely on his talents and, for part of his life, on subventions from Vaughan Williams".

His involvement with Morley College in London, where he conducted scratch orchestras and choirs of working people, was typical of his commitment to the unprivileged. This went side-by-side with his work at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Brook Green, Hammersmith, where he taught the daughters of the well-to-do and, incidentally, found the peace and quiet at weekends and in the evenings to write much of his music. They still have a room at the school called Mr Holst’s Room: it is rather astonishing now to think that a composer of his greatness for so long earned a living as a simple schoolmaster.

Like many British people, Holst was fascinated by the world. But after travelling to France, Spain and Morocco, he returned to Britain to sit in his quiet room and write music.

He captured the mystical landscape of Britain in many of his works. Here is A Somerset Rhapsody, Op. 21, No. 2, written in 1907. A strange excitement stirs in the music as if in the sunlit mist streaming across a quiet countryside, unexpected figures are emerging and marching.

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