On this day in 1874 Gustav von Holst was born in Cheltenham, England (he dropped the von later because of World War One). Son of a notable harp composer and teacher he had the best of musical starts. Like his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, he had the good fortune to be a famous composer whilst still alive. It didn’t make him a fortune though – he had to teach to make a living.
His best known work is The Planets which was an immediate hit when premiered just after the end of World War One. If you are not already familiar with it, you will recognise it immediately as the template from which much space music since seems to have been spawned.
It has been used in many soundtracks – The Right Stuff for example. John Williams cites his influence, which is clear in Star Wars, and agents representing the estate of Holst filed a lawsuit claiming that Zimmer even plagiarized material from The Planets for the film Gladiator.
We can offer you versions conducted by Adrian Boult, who premiered it in 1918, Colin Davis, Simon Rattle, Stokowski and many others. These are available on both Naxos and Music Online. This gives you the pportunity to find out just what a difference a conductor can make.
Unfortunately for Holst, The Planets eventually over-shadowed just about everything else he wrote. Everyone would still recognize I vow to thee my country (theme song of the RWC no less) but even this is set to music he stole from The Planets, apparently in order to meet a deadline when he was too tired to come up with anything else.
There are also a number of religious works and brass band numbers which are classics in their field. You can explore these lesser known works on Naxos and Music Online as well.