Gustav Holst: The Lost Films
Unseen footage from an unfinished film on the life of Cheltenham-born composer Gustav Holst has been uncovered in Gloucestershire...
Rare Gustav Holst films discovered by BBC Gloucestershire
Did you know that the composer of The Planets, Gustav Holst, used to walk from London to Cheltenham with a trombone slung over his back and was once reprimanded by a Cotswold farmer for frightening his sheep?
Or that when he was a singing teacher he was known affectionately by his students as "Gussy", and he wanted to donate his body to science?
Imogen Holst speaks about her father
These are just some of the fascinating facts to have surfaced after the discovery of an unfinished film about the life of the famous composer. The footage, originally filmed in the late 1970s, has remained hidden in the archives at the Holst Birthplace Museum until now.
Captured on film are never before seen interviews with Holst's daughter Imogen, composers Herbert Howells and Edmund Rubbra - all of whom died in the 1980s - and composer Sir Michael Tippett who died in 1998. Also taking part were several elderly ladies who had been taught by the composer when at school many years before.
Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham in 1874.
His most celebrated work is The Planets.
Holst studied at the Royal College of Music.
He taught at St Paul's Girls' School and at Morley College.
He was originally named "von Holst" but he dropped the "von" around the time of the First World War.
In 1927 a Holst Festival was held in Cheltenham to celebrate his life.
Holst died in 1934.
In the films daughter Imogen talks to interviewer Tony Richards about her father's early years in Cheltenham and his "double life" as a composer and teacher. She goes on to discuss his later life and reveals that he had wanted to donate his body to science after his death, but his wish wasn't granted.
The Forest of Dean composer Dr Herbert Howells remembers the first time he met him and recalls the time he taught alongside Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams at St Paul's Girl's School.
Sir Michael Tippett remembers meeting Holst at the Royal College of Music and discusses the importance of his masterpiece The Planets. Dr Edmund Rubbra remembers being a student of Holst and recalls what he knew about his compositions at the time.
Several of Holst's former students share their memories of the composer. Mrs Branwen Melville-Smith knew him as Mr "von Holst" - he dropped the "von" around the time of the First World War. She describes him as being "rather gnome-like with a nice smile".
Herbert Howells taught alongside Holst
Dr Hermia Mills tells us that he "wasn't strict enough" with some of his pupils at St Paul's Girls' School, and Mrs Irene Swan remembers him as being a kind teacher who was full of encouragement.
Mrs Rosamund Gurney performed in the choral section of The Planets in the famous 1927 performance at Cheltenham Town Hall. She recalls Holst as being "full of nervous energy" and wondered how "this little man" could ever have created Mars - "one of the noisiest pieces of music ever written".
Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral, Adrian Partington, thinks the films are fascinating. He said: "They are completely irreplaceable. They have so enriched my perception of what Holst was like as a man, and that in itself will enrich my perception of Holst as a composer because you can't separate the two.
"Anybody who knew Holst well has long since died - close friends, students - they've all gone now so it's fantastic. Its value is inestimable."
The picture quality on some of the films isn't perfect due to the age of the original film reels - colours on the Eastman Colour II negative have faded after 30 years in storage - but the footage is still perfectly watchable. The original audio tapes have survived the test of time much better.
Transfer of the original films to DVD
Before the films were digitised for use on this website the footage had to be transferred to DVD. This involved the use of one of the few remaining Steenbeck film editing machines at BBC Bristol.
Each reel of film had to be matched up with the appropriate sound tape and the two synchronised together. The films could then be imported into modern digital video editing software.
Use the link below to view the unique archive film footage:
last updated: 23/07/2009 at 14:18
Have Your Say
Are you fan of Gustav Holst's music? What do you like about these films?
Neil Arthur Williams
Alyson Breuer, Chicago, IL