Holst, Gustav / Brookes, Phillip


Holst, Gustav / Brookes, Phillip

Suite No. 1 in E-flat Op. 28/1 (Version for military band & version for small orchestra, arranged by Phillip Brookes)


Holst, Gustav / Brookes, Phillip – Suite No. 1 in E-flat Op. 28/1

(Version for military band & version for small orchestra, arranged by Phillip Brookes)

(b. Cheltenham, 21st September 1878 – d. London 25th May, 1934)

First Suite in E flat, Op. 28/1

Gustavus Theodore von Holst was born in Cheltenham (he altered his name during the First World War). His great-great grandfather was of German, Russian, Swedish and Latvian origin, who emigrated to England in 1802. The family had produced a long line of professional musicians, and Holst himself became a trombonist with the Carl Rosa Opera and the Scottish Orchestra. But he spent most of his life as music master at St Paul’s School for girls, in Hammersmith, and as an unpaid lecturer at Morley College, London.

He wrote this suite for military (ie: wind) band in 1909, but it is not known why he did so or for certain whether it was even played before 1920. It seems that it may have been intended for the band of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, but even that cannot be verified. What is certain, though, is that it was taken up by wind bands as soon as it was published in 1922 and is widely considered to be the first masterpiece written for a combination that has largely been ignored by ‘serious’ composers. Holst’s practical knowledge of playing in theatre bands and other small groups probably helped him, but his lifelong socialism may also have contributed, for not only did he write two more works for wind band, he also wrote one for brass band (A Moorside Suite), the true vehicle for popular music-making among the working people of the coal mines and factories of industrial Britain. It was as if Holst were providing working people with quality music to play.

The first movement, Chaconne, is a series of fifteen variations on a ground bass that is announced at the outset. The ground appears in different positions, in inversion, and in major and minor modes and leads to and impressive final climax. The tune of the ground is Holst’s own but has a resemblance to The Agincourt Song, which dates from 1415. Holst was a great admirer of Purcell, too, and this movement is very much a 20th Century homage the 17th Century master. It is one of the earliest examples of a composer looking for inspiration to pre-classical forebears, and an early sign of revival in interest in Purcell. It is perhaps no coincidence that in 1911 Holst’s pupils at Morley College gave the first performance since Purcell’s time of The Faerie Queen.

The composer let it be known that the movements should follow without a break, although there are no attacca markings in the score. The second movement Intermezzo is light and fast, with a contrasting central section that features a broad melody in folk style. A coda combines this melody with an earlier, secondary figure, whilst the whole leaves us with a glimpse of world of Mercury from The Planets.

The concluding March is bright, with an open-air feel to it. A contrasting trio builds a diatonic melody over one of Holst’s favourite devices, a tramping bass line. This broad tune has another Holst fingerprint, a seemingly continuous span, with the melody extended from the expected 32 bars to 48. After a rhythmic development that culminates in a percussion-led climax, the broad tune returns (at D), but this time in clever counterpoint with the first theme of the March. Here we might recall that Holst and Vaughan Williams were lifelong friends, regularly discussing each other’s compositions as they were being written. So it is of particular interest that the Overture to Vaughan Williams’ The Wasps, dating also from 1909, ends by combining its two main themes in a similar way.

The ending is of interest since it is a clear precursor of the last bars of Jupiter from The Planets. Both set a repeated rhythmic pattern, against which the brass declaims a strong figure in a flourish that leaves no doubt about its finality.

For many, however, the suite’s biggest surprise is that almost every theme used derives from the opening ground bass. Here is a summary of the main points of similarity – four thematic shapes are highlighted (B and C overlap) that appear in every main theme. When this is added to the contrapuntal tricks Holst plays throughout the suite, we can truly appreciate that this is a work of real ingenuity that deserves to be much better known than it is among the general musical public.

The First Suite in Eb has long been staple fare for wind bands, but it also exists in orchestrations by Gordon Jacob (large orchestra) and Phillip Brookes (small orchestra).

As is the case with the Second Suite in F, the full score is not exactly as Holst wrote it. In nearly forty years between the suite’s composition and the publication of the first full score in 1948 (reproduced here) the standard instrumentation of the wind band had changed, particularly in the USA, requiring the addition of several new parts. Likewise, a few that Holst used had dropped out of use. The main changes were the addition of parts for flute and piccolo in C (Holst’s originals were for Db instruments), contrabass clarinet, baritone and bass saxophones, and flügelhorn.

Philipp Brookes, 2011
Performance material: The military band version can be purchased from Boosey & Hawkes. Gordon Jacob’s arrangement (called Suite in Eb) is for hire from Boosey & Hawkes. Phillip Brookes’s arrangement will be available later in 2011 from MPH (www.musikmph.de).
Reprint of a copy from the Philipp Brookes Collection, Roxas City,Philippines

 Vorwort  Deutsch> HERE

Score No.


Special Edition

The Phillip Brookes Collection






Performance materials



First print


210 x 297 mm

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