Gustav Holst | Compositions, The Music of Holst

(1913) Hymn to Dionysus Op. 31 No.2

This piece is published by Stainer and Bell.

Holst wrote Hymn to Dionysus as a companion piece to Hecuba's Lament. Once again using a text by Euripides, Holst used a scene from the Bacchae where a group of women sing a song of prayer, incorporating dance and lively music into their worship. The text was translated by Gilbert Murray.

The idea of dance in a religious setting was one that fascinated Holst, and he would revisit this idea when writing his masterpiece The Hymn of Jesus, which is also based on Greek texts. The idea of a "Bacchanal" would also be seen in Holst's work again, and the Hymn to Dionysus also shares a structural similarities to the First Choral Symphony.

Written in 1913, the Hymn to Dionysus stands as somewhat of a transition piece: Holst departed from the use of Sanskrit literature in his choral works to look to other ancient texts. It's not known why Holst chose the Greek texts for the two Euripides pieces, but according to Michael Short, Ralph Vaughan Williams was setting music for a Bacchae using the same Gilbert Murray translations, and although Vaughan Williams' work on a Bacchae was never completed, it is possible that the Holst was introduced to the texts in this way. The Hymn to Dionysus was premiered in 1914.