Gustav Holst – A Fugal Concerto Op. 40, no. 2
(b. Cheltenham, 21 September 1874 – d. London, 25 May 1934)
First performance: 17 May 1923, by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Frederick Stock, in a private concert at the home of the president of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
First public performance: 11 October 1923, Holst conducting Leon Goosens (oboe), Robert Murchie (flute) and musicians from the BBC, Queen’s Hall, London.
Gustav Holst was invited in the spring of 1923 to lecture and conduct several of his works as part of a festival at the University of Michigan. On the voyage to America he began sketching his Fugal Concerto, and he completed the full score in the library of the university. The work is scored for solo flute and oboe, with string orchestra accompaniment. Ever the pragmatist, Holst indicates that the solo parts may also be played by two violins.
The concerto is quite brief (less than 9 minutes in most recordings), and while imitative counterpoint is an organizing principle of each movement, none contains a true fugue. The first movement exhibits Holst’s scherzando style, with a disjunct, highly rhythmic tune being tossed from orchestra to soloists and back again. In the slow movement, the solo lines intertwine over a hemiola bass line. The movement ends inconclusively, and segues directly into the finale. This movement opens with a repeated 3-note figure in compound meter, displaced so that each note of the motif has its turn falling on the beat. Near the end of the movement Holst introduces an old English dance tune, “If All the World Were Paper,” to which the initial rhythmic figure returns as a counterpoint.
Martin Jenkins, 2010
For parts please contact the publisher Novellos, London. Reprint of a copy from from the collection Phillip Brookes, Market Drayton.