Composers of the Great War
1874 - 1934
Gustavus Theodore von Holst was an English composer, arranger and teacher who is best known for his orchestral suite, The Planets. He was born in Cheltenham in September 1874 to Adolph von Holst, a professional musician and his wife, Clara Cox. Gustav had an aptitude for music and could play the violin, the piano and the trombone. He went on to study music at the Royal College of Music and later went on to teach music at Morley College and St Pauls' Girls School.
At the outbreak of WW1 Holst tried to enlist but was considered medically unfit, he suffered from neuritis in his right arm. His wife, Isobel, enrolled as an ambulance driver and Holst saw his contemporaries George Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan William sign up for active service.
Holst had an interest in astrology and came up with the idea for The Planets Suite in 1913 and began writing the music in 1914. Mars was the first to be written in 1914, followed by Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus in 1915, with Mercury following in 1916. Mars is thought to express the brutality of war rather to to glorify it's heroism.
"Music, being identical with heaven, isn't a thing of momentary thrills, or even hourly ones. It's a condition of eternity." Gustav Holst
You can listen to Mars here - its over 7 minutes long but such a strong piece of music. This version is played by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
The Planets, Opus 32
Mars, the bringer of War
The Planets Suite premiered to a select group of people at The Queen's Hall, London on the 28th September 1918 during the last few weeks of WW1. It's first public concert was held five months later in February 1919 under the auspices of the Royal Philharmonic Society and was conducted by Adrian Boult, who had been instrumental in persuading Holst to compose the music.
Due to the international success of The Planets in the years immediately after WW1, Holst became a well known figure. He died in 1934 and is buried in Cheltenham Cathedral.