Last week we explored the use of folk music in the work of two Norwegian composers, Edvard Grieg and Johan Svendsen. This week, let’s go to England where, during the late nineteenth century, it had been several centuries since they produced a prominent composer. While several significant names emerged during this time period, this week we will look at two friends, Gustav Holst (1874–1934) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958).
Gustav Holst began his musical studies at an early age studying piano. While his father hoped he would pursue a career in performance, his struggles with neuritis in his right arm quickly ended any hope of pursuing that avenue. While he attended the Royal College of Music to study composition, Holst worked hard but his teachers didn’t find him to be amazing. Little did they know what he would become! While at the Royal College of Music, Holst met Vaughan Williams with whom he would become lifelong friends. Vaughan Williams introduced his new friend to the idea of using folk tunes as inspiration for his work and it transformed Holst’s compositional approach.
While many of you may know Holst from The Planets, today I want to look more closely at how he used folk in A Somerset Rhapsody. This lovely piece is based on traditional songs gathered in Somerset by Cecil Sharp, for whom the work is dedicated. It was first performed in Queen’s Hall in 1910. Holst was quite pleased with how it turned out. Below you can listen to this work. Can you think of any of Holst’s other works that use folk elements?