Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Susan Gritton, soprano
Holst: The Mystic Trumpeter, Op. 18, H71
Holst: First Choral Symphony, Op. 41, H155
Composed originally in 1904 and revised in 1912, The Mystic Trumpeter received only two performances in Holst’s lifetime, and it was not revived until 1980. Holst based this work on a poem from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The influence of Hindu thought is clearly present throughout the piece, while musically there are fingerprints of his later style too, particularly in the use of bitonality (two different keys used simultaneously). The ending, calm and beautifully serene, is wholly characteristic of the mature Holst’s ability to do the unexpected.
Holst drafted the First Choral Symphony in 1923, shortly after his largely unsuccessful attempt at grand opera with The Perfect Fool. The mixed reception that the Symphony received was to some extend provoked by his choice of texts. All are by Keats, but they are still vastly different one from another. Holst chose them for their ability to stimulate his musical imagination, and the fact that, verbally, they followed little or no sequence was of no great concern to him. In the texts from Endymion, for example, his exuberant side is given free rein, while Ode on a Grecian Urn reveals another side, one of calm and composure. ‘Fancy’, from Extracts from an Opera, is set as a whirling Scherzo, ‘Folly’s Song’ serving as a contrasting earthbound trio. Holst himself said of this Symphony: ‘I think the work as a whole is the best thing I have written.’