Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Gustav Holst

Music History Monday: The Planets

We mark the premiere performance – on September 28, 1918 – 102 years ago today – of Gustav Holst’s The Planets in Queen’s Hall, London, under the baton of Adrian Boult. To hear Holst (1874-1934) tell it, The Planets became an albatross around his neck; a monkey on his back; a large, gnarly grain of sand in his skivvies: it made him internationally famous and remained so popular that nothing he composed for the remainder of his life ever came close to approaching its popularity. Holst went to his grave believing that as far as the public was concerned, he was hardly more than a one-hit wonder.  As a composer and a man, Holst presents us with something of an enigma. In The Planets, we hear a composer of great passion, ecstatic joy, ethereal lyricism, and stunning violence. In its massive, seven-movement design, The Planets has no real precedent; it is quite original. Likewise, Holst’s compositional merging of Wagnerian expressive oomph, English folk song, and Hindu mysticism set him apart from every other English composer of his time. (Four our info, Holst was a student of Sanskrit literature who, among other Hindu-inspired works, set to music hymns from the Rig […]

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Dr Bob Prescribes: Gustav Holst – The Planets

Oh my. This was going to be a straightforward review of my favorite recording of one of my favorite orchestral works, Gustav Holst’s The Planets. However, having done my research I have come face to face with an issue and an attendant moral dilemma that has caused me to question whether (or not) I should have recommended this recording and, having done so, by what justification. Gustav Holst Gustavus Theodore von Holst was born on September 21, 1874 and died on May 25, 1934, four months short of his sixtieth birthday. Despite his dauntingly Teutonic name, he was an Englishman through and through: born in Cheltenham and educated at the Royal College of Music in London, where he lived most of his life and where he died. The biographical substance of Holst’s life can be outlined with shocking ease. A small, frail, short-sighted and asthmatic child, he had to abandon his ambition to be a professional pianist due to neural inflammation in his right arm. Instead, he became a composition student of Charles Stanford at London’s Royal Academy. He failed to win a scholarship and was, according to Stanford: “hardworking but not at all brilliant.”  After graduating he took a […]

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