Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

After mentioning Ralph Vaughan Williams yesterday, let’s listen to a bit of Gustav Holst today. Holst was born a couple years after RVW, so the two were roughly contemporaneous, and the two of them form pillars in England’s great musical “rising” at the end of Romanticism and the beginning of Modernism. (Sir Edward Elgar predated them both.) Holst, unlike RVW, is known primarily for a single work, the juggernaut symphonic suite The Planets; but Holst, like RVW, wrote a great deal of fine music for orchestra, choir, and others. Holst’s two Suites for Military Band are a mainstay of wind ensemble literature…but for the average classical music listener, Holst pretty much begins and ends with The Planets.

That’s somewhat ironic, because Holst is also quoted as saying the following:

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 success”. If he’s a failure he stands a good chance of concentrating upon the best work of which he’s capable.

It’s a pity that one work has overshadowed the rest of his output, because Holst’s music is far more rewarding than just the single work that everybody knows. Here are two examples of his settings: Christmas Day and In the Bleak Midwinter. Both feature wonderful choral writing, which you’d never know Holst could do if all you know by him is The Planets.


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