Gustav Holst, by Kenric Taylor: A Biography, by Ian Lace

3. A Gifted Teacher

Gustav Holst came into a small legacy when his father died, so he and Isobel went to Berlin for a short holiday. He returned to London vowing to give up the trombone and concentrate on composing. Like Edward Elgar before him, Holst was at first destined to be disappointed. He wrote many good songs but they were constantly refused by publisher after publisher. His wife copied his music and also made clothes for her friends to help make ends meet. Just as Gustav's resolution was wavering, he was asked to deputize for the singing teacher at James Allen School in Dulwich. Vaughan Williams played a role in getting him the job. Gustav Holst's career as a gifted teacher had begun.

In 1905, Holst was appointed Director of Music at St. Paul's Girls School in Hammersmith. It was also the year he was asked to conduct his new large scale piece for soprano and orchestra, The Mystic Trumpeter at Queens Hall. The Mystic Trumpeter, based on poetry by Walt Whitman, shows strong influences of Wagner. This was one of the last pieces Holst wrote that would be influenced in such a way; he was becoming more interested in English folksong. The simplicity and economy of the tunes greatly appealed to him. It was the impact and influence of folksong that finally banished the traces of Wagner from his works.

By 1907, Holst had finished the music for Sita and was beginning work on the first group of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda. He also composed his Somerset Rhapsody in that year. Composing became easier now that they had a small house in Richmond. On weekends, they escaped to a small two room cottage on the remote Isle of Sheppey. It was a welcome solitude.

Holst was appointed Musical Director at the Morley College for Working Men and Women. Previously, they had never bothered much about music there. His exacting demands drove many students away, but then thankfully, several new and enthusiastic students joined to turn the classes into a success.

In 1906 Holst suffered a setback when he failed to win a composition competition, the Ricordi Prize, with his long laboured over opera, Sita . it was a bitter blow; His old composition teacher, Stanford, was probably the reason the opera did not win the competition.

Depression and perpetual overwork had reduced Holst to such a state that his doctor ordered him to take a holiday in a warm climate. He decided to go to Algeria and bicycle in the desert. This experience of a colorful world gave him the inspiration for his next major work for orchestra, Beni Mora. When in was first performed in England, one critic complained, "We do not ask for Biskra dancing girls in Langham Place." Vaughan Williams once noted that if the piece had been premiered in Paris, it would have made Holst a household name some ten years earlier than his success with The Planets.

At home in England again, a reinvigorated Holst began working on another Indian opera which he called, Savitri. This was a much smaller work only lasting a little over thirty minutes. The music was written for three soloists, a small hidden chorus, and a chamber orchestra. During this time, Gustav was at the height of his interest in setting Sanskrit texts. From 1908 to 1912, he wrote four sets of hymns from the Rig Veda, the Vedic Hymns for voice and piano, and the large scale choral work called The Cloud Messenger.

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