Gustav Holst: St Paul’s Suite and The Planets
By Tim Hazell
Composer and pianist Gustav Holst (1875-1934) was frequently inspired by unusual literary forms, such as Sanskrit texts. He set poetry by Thomas Hardy and the writing of Walt Whitman—the latter a particular influence—to music. Holst composed the orchestral Walt Whitman Overture in 1899.
In 1904, St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith appointed him musical director. When a music wing was added, the school built a soundproof teaching room especially for him, and this was where he composed nearly all of his music until his death in 1934. The St Paul’s Suite for the school orchestra was his first composition there. Originally written for strings, Holst later added wind parts to include an entire orchestra.
The first movement begins with the robust “Jig” in alternating 6/8 and 9/8 time. The second “Ostinato” movement opens with the second violins playing a figure that continues throughout until a solo viola introduces the principal theme. In the “Intermezzo,” a solo violin introduces the principal melody over pizzicato chords. Finally, the folksong “Dargason” is introduced very softly, until cellos enter playing the beautiful “Greensleeves” and the two folk songs are played together to end the suite.
The Planets, composed between 1914 and 1916, is a suite of seven movements. Holst’s starting point for the music was the astrological character of each planet, though his interest in astrology went no deeper than its musical suggestiveness. Many clues to the music’s meaning are revealed in the individual sections.
Holst inherited English ancestry on his mother’s side and Swedish, Latvian, and German ones from his father. Here is a German recipe for roast chicken in a piquant white sauce that is of such excellence that it’s hard to believe the sauce was invented at the beginning of the seventeenth century!
Ein Kappaunen Weisz
1 chicken, about 4 lb.
1 oz butter
1/2 pint chicken stock
2 egg yolks
1/2 pint beef stock
2 oz butter
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon or 1 / 2 tsp. dried
1 tbsp wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
French-roast the chicken by rubbing the butter over the bird, covering the breast with aluminum foil and setting it into a roasting pan with the chicken stock. Place in a hot oven at 400F and roast for 1-1/2 hours, lowering the heat to 350F halfway through the roasting time.
Prepare the sauce about 10 minutes before the chicken is done: Lightly beat the egg yolks in a small bowl and stir in the beef stock. Pour into a small saucepan and set over low heat. Add butter in small pieces and stir constantly while mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Slowly stir in the chopped herbs and vinegar. Return to low heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir briskly until almost to a boil, but do not allow it to boil.
Remove from heat. Carve the chicken. Arrange on a serving platter. Pour the sauce over and serve.