by Gustav Holst


Gustav Holst was born into a very musical family. His father was a pianist, and his mother (who died when he was 8) was a singer. As a child, he was taught the piano, organ and trombone. He studied composition at the Royal College of Music in London (where he was a teacher later in his life). There, he met another composer- Ralph Vaughan Williams. They soon became wonderful friends. Holst and Vaughan Williams were known to spend many hours having deep conversations about music and life- but their music composition styles were very different. After he finished college, Holst played his trombone professionally. He soon found that it was difficult to earn a living as a trombonist and composer, so in 1904 he took a job as the Director of Music at the St. Paul’s Girl’s School in Hammersmith, a job that he held until he died! It was during his time as a teacher that he composed his most famous work, The Planets. Because he was so busy teaching his students, it took him over two years to complete the piece! Although he is known to this day for The Planets, Holst never felt that it was the best example of his compositions. Throughout his life, Holst continued to compose orchestral music, wind ensemble music, operas, chamber music, and vocal music of many different styles, and had a great interest in various kinds of literature, poetry and astrology. Born in Cheltenham, England, September 14th, 1874; Died in England, May 25th, 1934

Year of composition: 1974

Publisher: G. Schirmer, Inc

Grade: 5

Type of composition: capriccio (An instrumental work with an improvisatory style and a free form )

Style: jazz band piece for orchestra then transcribed to wind ensemble.

Programming suggestions: Holst wrote this work in the spring of 1932, while he was guest Lecturer in Composition at Harvard University. He had been asked by Nathaniel Shilkret to write “a short radio piece, not longer than five or six minutes,” for a composers’ series on folk music themes. Holst abandoned the composition because he feared the piece may get rejected due to his writing style. Holst was soon hospitalized and never finished the piece. His daughter, Imogen, revised the piece and named it “Capriccio” and scored it for orchestra.

Solo instruments: alto saxophone, harp/piano, bari saxophone, tenor saxophone, marimba, tuba, bassoon, flute, oboe.

Anecdotal notes: The piece begins with an unaccompanied alto sax solo. The harp solos which finally leads the piece into its first tutti section. Beginning is lyrical with woodwind melody with brass accompaniment. Tempo steps up at B with saxophones trading passages and marimba solo accompaniment. Many instrument trade off the same sequence in this section. Syncopated rhythms may cause trouble with the down beats being played in the accompaniment. Some solos and soli sections occur with thick band accompaniment. The ensemble must have control to play soft, but yet achieve the desired effect of articulation and style. The piece can best be described as ABAB coda. Since the piece has a jazz feel, having your ensemble emulate a jazz band may be hard to accomplish. Dynamics play an important role in the piece. Players must have control to play fast passages loud and then repeat that passage at piano in the next measure. The piece also has an odd instrumentation: flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet, atb saxes, tpt, hrn, tuba, timpani, harp. No cues are given for solos, so parts will have to be rewritten if missing.

Discography: Holst: Orchestral Works. Conductor: Richard Hickox Label: Chandos ASIN: B000000AY8

Recording of "Capriccio"