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

6. Journey's End

In October 1927, Holst received an invitation from Dr. George Bell, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, to write some music for a dramatic production called The Coming of Christ. In later years when Dr. Bell had become Bishop of Chichester, the Whitsuntide Festivals were held in his Cathedral. In Chichester, they reached the glory of that first weekend in Thaxted. The other composition which occupied Holst in 1928 was The Moorside Suite for brass band. This became the test piece for the brass band competition at the Crystal Palace that year. The winners were the Black Dyke Mills Band and one of the cornet players in the band was Harry Mortimer.

In March 1929, Holst returned from an extended Italian holiday to travel to America again where was to be guest of honor at the 21st Anniversary celebrations of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He would be representing British art. He would also lecture on 'the teaching of art' at Yale. On returning home he began composition again , this time on The Dream City, the first of twelve Humbert Wolfe songs. The Dream City spoke of that part of London which he knew and loved Kensington, Richmond Hill and Kew and of the long purples of the Thames.

The Dream City was sung magically by Dorothy Silk at the first public performance in the Wigmore Hall, but Holst sat in despair. After the songs the concert ended with the Schubert Quintet in C. The warmth of this music prompted the beginnings of Holst's thaw but it was a long and painful process. Quoting Imogen Holst: "As he listened to it, he realized what he had lost not only in his music but in his life. He could cling to his austerity. He could fill his days with kindliness and good humor. He could write music that was neither commonplace, unmeaning nor tame. And he could grope after ideas that were colossal and mysterious. But he missed the warmth of the Schubert Quintet."

In 1930 Holst's contrapuntal and bitonal Double Concerto for two violins drew mixed reviews. One critic's verdict was "highly intellectualized," while The Daily Telegraph said it had outstanding qualities and moments of rare beauty. It should present little difficulty to today's audiences and is in fact an appealing work. He received the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society after the first performance of the Double Concerto.

The Choral Fantasia drew dire press notices when it was premiered in Gloucester at the 1931 Three Choirs Festival but Vaughan Williams was moved by it.

Also in 1930, Gustav Holst wrote his thirteenth and final opera. It was another chamber opera called, The Tale of The Wandering Scholar, from the book by medievalist Helen Waddell. Also in that year came the brilliant Hammersmith, a Prelude and Scherzo originally commissioned by the BBC Military Band.

Holst was invited to lecture in composition at Harvard University for the first six months of 1932. Once in America, he undertook a grueling program of conducting and lecturing including a talk on his beloved Haydn at the Library of Congress in Washington. But immediately afterwards, he was hospitalized with hemorrhagic gastritis caused by a duodenal ulcer. Back in England he convalesced for much of the rest of 1932. He had to consume vast quantities of milk and his walking became, as he described it, even more middle aged than before.

However, the next year Holst was at work again. For Lionel Tertis he composed the Lyric Movement for Viola and Orchestra and for the pupils at St Paul's he wrote The Brook Green Suite. In both works he was returning to the ease and spontaneity that had so often deserted him during the previous ten years. At the end of 1933, he entered a nursing-home and was given the choice of a minor operation and a restricted life afterwards or a major operation and the freedom to do what he liked. He chose the latter. The operation was planned for the early spring.

During the early months of 1934, Holst listened to broadcasts of his music and scored the scherzo he had began the previous year. It was to be part of a symphony but there was no time left for the other movements. The operation, in May, was successful but his heart was unequal to the strain. He died two days later on the 25th of May.

Elgar had died on February 24th and Delius was to pass away on June 10th of that year.

Holst's ashes were buried in the Cathedral in Chichester. A few feet from the grave was the memorial to Weelkes, who had been the organist of the Cathedral more than 300 years before.

[ 5. Musical Esotericism ] [ 6. Journey's End ] [ 7. Epilogue ]