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Holst, Gustav

Entry updated 28 January 2013. Tagged: Music, People.

(1874-1934) British composer, of Latvian and Swedish extraction. Holst trained at the Royal College of Music and, partly on account of his socialist and vegetarian beliefs, met many important figures of the turn of the twentieth century, amongst them H G Wells and William Morris. Much of his music reflected his Indian-influenced spirituality: for instance his choral fantasia The Cloud Messenger (1912), based on Khalidasa's sixth-century Sanskrit poem Meghaduta concerning a sentient cloud that carries the message of an exiled poet pining for his wife. His best-known work remains the seven-movement orchestral suite The Planets (performed 1920); a work of astrological provenance that, through the inclusion of the worlds Uranus and Neptune, moves from an archaic to a contemporary conception of the solar system. The early movements, particularly the belligerently rat-tatting "Mars, the Bringer of War" and the syrupy "Venus, the Bringer of Peace" make reference to classical deities rather than planetary bodies, it is true; but the later movements, especially the eerie "Neptune the Mystic", capture something of the chill spaciousness and emptiness of twentieth-century apperceptions of the solar system. It is these later sections that makes The Planets a properly sf work. British composer Colin Matthews (1946-    ) wrote a sequel movement to the suite, "Pluto the Renewer" (2000) which further explores this alienating and science-fictional musical idiom. [AR]

Gustavus Theodor von Holst

born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire: 21 September 1874

died London: 25 May 1934

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