Piece of the Week: First Suite in Eb
April 24, 2014 | by Michael Ferry
“First Suite in E Flat for Military Band, Op. 28a” (1909) by Gustav Holst (Boosey & Hawkes) is written in three movements: “Chaconne” (Allegro moderato), “Intermezzo” (Vivace), and “March” (Tempo di Marcia). The original scoring was for flute, piccolo, two oboes, two E flat clarinets, B flat clarinets (solo-first, second) two trumpets in B flat, three trombones, euphonium, basses, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, and triangle, with condensed score only (as in the composer’s original scoring). This scoring was for a slightly larger group than the official 28-piece British army band. Probably at the suggestion of Albert Austin Harding, parts were added for alto clarinet, bass clarinet, and flugelhorn to match the instrumentation used in American school band contests. The parts for baritone and bass saxophone/contrabass clarinet were the idea of the publisher, which issued a full score in 1948 that was based on the original edition and the added parts, including all of the errors and omissions.
Audio provided by The President’s Own United States Marine Band:
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was born in Cheltenham, England, of Scandinavian heritage. His father, Adolph was a pianist and organist who married a student, Clara. Gustav was their first child. He began studying piano at an early age, and practiced diligently under stern direction of his father, despite his often poor health (a problem that plagued him throughout his life). Holst began composing while at Cheltenham Grammar School and by age 17 found positions conducting local village choirs. He then studied counterpoint at Oxford before going to London in 1893 to study composition under Sir Charles Stanford at the Royal College of Music, where he was not immediately successful. While a student, he found a great deal of influence in the music of Richard Wagner. It was also at this time that he met Ralph Vaughan Williams, who would turn out to be a lifelong friend, and with whom he would mutually share musical inspiration and criticism. After leaving college in 1898, Holst earned a living on trombone (his second study at the Royal College of Music) playing in band and theaters. He joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and later he toured with the Scottish Orchestra, an experience that gave him the feel of an orchestra from the inside. However, Holst eventually came to the conclusion that touring took away time and energy from composition, and after two years abandoned touring altogether. He married Isobel Harrison in 1901, and eventually landed a teaching position at a girls’ school in Dulwich. In 1905 he was appointed director of music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, a post he kept until the end of his life. In 1907 his daughter, Imogen, was born. Teaching took up a great deal of Holst’s time, and for this reason it took him two years to write The Planets, the first large-scale work in which he was able to fully express himself. Though this was by far Holst’s most acclaimed and well-known work, he never considered it to be his best. Returning to London in 1925, Holst managed to simplify his life and gave up all teaching except for a little work at St. Paul Girls’ School. The years from 1927 to 1933 were the best for Holst as a composer. He had more time for thinking, traveling, and studying. Although his new music continued to disappoint most listeners, he was not bothered about it. He would say that the greatest luck an artist could have was to be known and respected by everyone who cared for real art, and ignored by all the rest. In January 1932 Holst was appointed visiting lecturer in composition at Harvard University; however, in March of that year he had a severe attack of gastritis, causing him to lead “a restricted life,” for the next 18 months, frequently in and out of clinics. He had surgery in a London nursing home in May of 1934 and died two days later on the 25th. At the request of his friend Bishop Bell, his ashes were interred in Chichester Cathedral.
Arranger – Fennell, Frederick
Frederick Fennell is best known as the most famous wind ensemble conductor in the world. His numerous recordings, first with the Eastman Wind Ensemble (which was his creation), and now with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, are the standards against which all other recordings are compared. However, Dr. Fennell is equally at home conducting opera and orchestra. Some of his conducting assignments in these fields are The Cleveland Orchestra, The London Symphony, the Denver, New Orleans, St. Louis, National, Buffalo, Houston, Calgary, Eastman, Hartford and San Diego symphony orchestras. He was an assistant to Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood, the Assistant Music Director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, a conducting fellow at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and Conductor in Residence at the University of Miami. He has conducted the Boston “Pops” Orchestra, the Boston Esplanade and Carnegie Hall “Pops” Concerts. During his most distinguished career, in addition to receiving almost every honor the world can bestow for conducting, he has earned the love and admiration of those who have been fortunate enough to play under his direction and those who have come to know him through his appearances all over the world.