Holst, Gustav


Holst, Gustav

First Choral Symphony Op. 41 (with English text)



Gustav Holst – First Choral Symphony Op. 41

(b. Cheltenham 21 September 1874 – ; d. London, 25 May 1934)


Prelude: Invocation to Pan p.1
Song and Bacchanal p.8
Ode on a Grecian Urn p.39
Scherzo: Fancy Chorus p.56
Folly’s Song p. 78
Finale p. 96

Gustav Holst was well respected as a composer who could handle a large chorus when the Leeds Festival committee commissioned a choral work for the 1925 Festival. He wrote it in 1923-1924, at a time when he was not teaching because of nervous exhaustion. From the beginning it was called First Choral Symphony, suggesting that he always intended there to be a second (a few sketches do exist for one based on poetry by George Meredith, but nothing substantial).

Holst chose the poetry of John Keats to base the work on. This, in itself, was a risk since the text contains some of the most esteemed and ingrained English poetry; indeed, there was a certain amount of criticism of Holst’s setting – for example – the Ode on a Grecian Urn. But Holst rose to the challenge and produced a work both of sensitivity and exuberance. Each movement may be performed separately, and the Scherzo may be played without the chorus, as an orchestral piece.

The words of the Prelude and Invocation to Pan stem from Endymion. In the Finale ‘Spirit here that reignest’ is from a song Keats wrote on a blank page of Beaumont & Fletchers works. ‘God of the golden bow’ comes from the Hymn to Apollo, while ‘In thy western halls of gold’ is an excerpt from the Ode to Apollo. ‘Bards of Passion and of Mirth’ is from another Ode that Keats wrote into his Beaumont & Fletcher book as well.

The work was first performed at Leeds on 7 October 1925 by Dorothy Silk (soloist) , the Leeds Festival Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Albert Coates. The premiere seems to have been well received, but when it was repeated in London on 29 October (with the same performers) it was not a great success. (This performance had marked the centenary of the premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, written for the same society, and that great work was also on the programme.) Much of the criticism centred around whether Holst’s talents were worthy of of Keats’ words. Seen from nearly a century away this seems much less important, and we can appreciate the work for Holst’s response to a great poet.

Holst was somewhat ambivalent about the work. Sometimes he would praise it: “I think it is my best thing” [to Edwin Evans] and “I think the work as a whole is the best thing I have written, and, like you, I prefer the two middle movements” [to W. G. Whittaker]. But he also gave more guarded opinions: “During the last two years I have learnt that I don’t know good music from bad or, rather, good from less good. And I’m not at all sure that the K. S. [‘Keats Symphony’] is good at all. Just at present I believe I like it which is more than I can say about most of my things” [to Ralph Vaughan Williams].

Phillip Brookes, 2024

For performance material please contact Novello, London Reprint of a copy from the collection Phillip Brookes, Roxas City.



German preface / weiterlesen … > HERE

Score Data

Score Number


Special Edition

The Phillip Brookes Collection


Choir/Voice & Orchestra




210 x 297 mm



Go to Top