Gustav Holst | Compositions, The Music of Holst

(1909) Suite No.1 in E-Flat Op. 28 No.1

- Chaconne- Intermezzo- March

This piece is published by Boosey and Hawkes.

In 1909, Holst composed the Suite No. 1 in E-flat, a revolutionary piece in that it was written exclusively for wind band. At that time, concert wind band repertoire consisted of reductions of pieces originally scored for orchestras, essentially program music. Holst wanted to make the concert band a serious concert medium, and this piece is seen as the first step in that direction.

Holst was well suited for this role as concert band composer; he played trombone in the Scottish Orchestra and the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and he was well acquainted with the working of wind instruments. It should also be noted that Holst played for seven years as a trombonist for the White Viennese Band. It was a seaside band which claimed to be foreign, and the members even spoke with phony accents, but in actuality two thirds of the group was from England. During this time period, audiences were more likely to go to a concert held by a foreign band than a British one. Talk about patriotism!

Holst's style differs from other composers, who generally wrote for the concert band as they would for an orchestra without strings. The piece starts of with the "Chaconne," a melody of 16 notes that starts in the baritone makes its way throughout the entire band, and in the middle of the piece, the trombone plays the inversion of this progression. Buliding ever so slowly, the finale of this first movement is marked by a strong fortissimo in all instruments and a sustained chord by the upper winds as the lower brass drops out. The remaining two movements are actually based on a segment of this Chaconne theme. The "Intermezzo" is marked vivace and through the vibrant tempo we are shown the Holst's mastery in writing for woodwind instruments. The piece ends with a "March" in the form ABA, yet what makes the march interesting is the combination of the two melodies in the finale with a sophicated counterpoint. This technique of combining two folk song tunes is also employed the "Fantasia" of for strings and the Suite No.2 in F. The Suite No. 1 in E-flat was first performed in 1920.