Gustav Holst, English composer and music teacher, and son of an English mother and Swedish father, was born on 24. September 1874 in Cheltenham. He began his career as a pianist. A stipend enabled him in 1894 to study composition with Charles Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London. After leaving the college a nerve infection of his arm meant he had to give up the piano. He changed to playing the trombone in an opera company where he gained a profound knowledge of all the other instruments in an orchestra.
In 1905 he became music master at St. Paul`s girls`school, London and in 1907 director of music at Morley College, Oxford; he retained both posts until the end of his life. He died in London on 25. May 1934.
Holst is known as a rediscoverer of the English vocal- and choral tradition ( folk songs, madrigals and church music). Many of his smaller arrangements like the “St. Paul`s Suite” for strings represent the kind of music he intended to promote as a teacher.
When searching for new stimuli for composing he studied oriental philosophy, the old English composers (e.g. Weelkes and Purcell) as well as Gregorian music. Inspired by his interest in eternity and space, he also studied astrology and astronomy. The character of the planets finally induced him to compose the suite “The Planets), his most famous and best known work, which was publicly performed for the first time in 1920. (He finished the movements “Mars”, “Venus” and “Jupiter” in 1914, “Saturn”, Uranus” and “Neptun” in 1915 and “Mercury” in 1916).
Spiritual lines of this tone poem can be traced back to Debussy, Ravel, Wagner and Mahler. During the age of late romantic and often ecstatic expansion of contents and forms Holst succeeded in composing a very radical piece of music fed by mystic and occult elemental forces. By using modal melodies, certain musical instruments (e.g. the flageolet) and the 5/4 and 7/4 time measure he creates the image of planets which are rotating in space, of never ending distance, gigantic fields of gravity and the vanishing in space and thus creates a mysterious almost hypnotical effect.