Gustav Holst | Compositions, The Music of Holst

(1929-30) The Wandering Scholar Op. 50

This piece is published by Faber.

This opera, with libretto by Clifford Bax (brother of Arnold Bax) is based on one of the tales from Helen Waddell's "The Wandering Scholars." The story is set in a 13th century farmhouse in France where Louis (baritone) and his wife, Alison (soprano), live. When Louis goes into town, Alison begins preparing food for an afternoon with the town priest, Phillippe (bass), who seems to want more than just food from dear Alison. When he tries to get Alison up to the attic to "exorcise that naughty devil of springtime," he is interrupted by a poor wandering scholar, Pierre (tenor), who is looking for food. The priest drives Pierre away, even though Alison wants to take pity on him.

When the scholar leaves, Phillippe tries to continue his pursuits where he left off, but is cut short by the unexpected early return of Louis. Father Phillippe hides under a bale of hay, and Alison hides the food just as Louis returns to the house with Pierre. Although the scholar is hungry, he decides to tell a story, and this story uncovers the entire conspiracy with the priest. Phillippe is chased out of the house, and Alison is sent to the attic without supper while the two men eat together.

The Wandering Scholar was first performed in 1934, but Holst was too sick to hear it live. He died before he had the chance to correct any of the insecurities he had with the score. In 1968, his daughter, Imogen Holst and her friend, Benjamin Britten, edited the score in order to address some of Gustav's earlier concerns.