Holst, Gustavus Theodore (von Holst)
b Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 1874, d Ealing, Middlesex 1934. Son of a Swedish father and church organist (whose own composer father had come to England in 1807) and an English (pianist) mother, after a difficult childhood he composed voluntaries, anthems and a symphony while still at Cheltenham Grammar Sch, and conducted some nearby village choirs. At 17 became organist/choirmaster at Wyck Rissington (Glos). In 1893 his first comic operetta was performed. A possible career as a pianist was prevented by the discovery of neuritis in his right arm, but he was able to play first trombone for the Carl Rosa Opera Co. and for the Scottish Orchestra. Encouraged by briefly studying counterpoint at Oxford, he then went to the RCM, studying under Stanford and becoming a close friend of Vaughan Williams. He met his bills by playing the trombone on Blackpool and Brighton piers in the holidays. From 1903 he concentrated on teaching, as music master at James Alleyn’s Girls’ Sch and St Paul’s Girls’ Sch, London; became a leader in adult education through his work at Morley Coll and Reading. He admired William Morris and joined the Hammersmith Socialist Society, whose convictions matched his own support for amateur musicians and community music projects and the belief that good music should be available to all. Music organiser of YMCA in 1918, touring war camps in SE Europe. Taught composition at RCM from 1919; lectured at Harvard and at Glasgow Univ. Abandoning a youthful fascination with Wagner, he became a classically English composer, loving the Cotswolds of his childhood and Thaxted (Essex) where he settled with his family and became church organist, choirmaster, and director of the local music festival. He became a close friend of the radical vicar Conrad Noel. But his later years were marked by illness and a more patchy public response. Many have hoped that the success of The Planets suite (1914) would not completely eclipse his other work. His restored ‘Birthplace Museum’ is at Cheltenham. No.187.