Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brook Green Suite

I have loved this gentle, evocative suite of music from Gustav Holst since I first heard it performed when I was a student. It is music I want played at my funeral capturing a particular sense of place in time. It was composed for Holst's pupils at St Paul's Girl's School that overlooked the Green. A piece of music sufficiently complex to challenge them, yet suitable to play and be played well. Though it was written in 1933, at the end of his life, for me it captures a sense of that serenity (seen only in retrospect perhaps) that was the time that immediately preceded the First World War: pastoral, idealistic, hopeful.

Holst is an under appreciated composer, overshadowed by his most famous work: the Planets and by his friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was a serious student both of heterodox Christianity and Hindu tradition (attempting to learn both Greek and Sanskrit so he could read texts in their original) and blended religious interest and socialism in a way that was uniquely of these Isles (and of its time).

Yesterday, I managed for the first time to pass 'Brook Green' on the bus from Barnes to Shepherd's Bush. Strangely, though I knew differently, it had never occurred to me that it was an actual place! It seemed yesterday, as I passed, a cool oasis of green in a sultry city.

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