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HAMMERSMITH Op.52, Prelude and Scherzo for Wind Ensemble by GUSTAV HOLST (England, 1874 – 1934)

[#239] February 19, 2024

1930 | Wind Ensemble | Grade 5 | 10’ – 15’ | Tone poem

British composer and educator Gustav Holst

Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo, by British composer and educator Gustav Holst is our Composition of the Week.

Holst was commissioned to compose the work by the BBC Military Band in 1930, and he finished the work that same year. It was Holst's first wind band work after 19 years, his last being the Second Suite in F for Military Band. Holst also orchestrated a version for a full orchestra in 1931. The piece is based on Holst's love for the London borough of Hammersmith, and it is dedicated to the Author of “The Water Gypsies”, Alan Patrick Herbert.


Hammersmith's premiere was performed by the United States Marine Band at the American Bandmasters Association Convention in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 1932, under Taylor Branson.

This was the only performance of the work during Holst's lifetime. The orchestral version, published by Boosey & Hawkes, remained in print, but the band version was completely lost after Holst's death in 1934. In 1954, Robert Cantrick, the band director at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, worked with Imogen Holst to reassemble the complete parts after Imogen Holst found the original manuscript.

The second performance was given by the Kiltie Band under Cantrick, on 14 April 1954, upon which Boosey & Hawkes published it. Since then, Hammersmith has gained widespread recognition, and is considered a professional band essential today.

The writing is more musically challenging than Holst's other wind band works. A typical performance runs for 14 minutes.

Holst also completed a version for symphony orchestra in 1931, with the following orchestration:




Both versions are available at Boosey and Hawkes.



Holst learned piano at an early age but was stricken with a nerve condition that affected the movement of his right hand, forcing him to give up the piano for the trombone. He received his degrees from The Royal College of Music in London, where he met fellow composer (and lifelong friend) Ralph Vaughan Williams and became interested in Hindu mysticism and spirituality, interests that would later shape the course of his compositional output. In 1901 Holst married Isobel Harrison, who would remain with him the remainder of his life.


Before Holst became a well-known composer, he relied for income from playing the trombone in the Carl Rosa Opera Company and in the White Viennese Band, a popular orchestra specializing in "light music." In 1905, Holst became director of music at the St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, London, and in 1907, he also became director of music at Morley College, retaining both positions until his death in 1934.


Holst's compositions for wind band, although only a small portion of his total output, have made him a cornerstone of the genre.











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