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Second Suite in F by Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avant-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

The Second Suite in F was written in 1911, but not performed until 1922.  Each of its four movements uses one or more folk songs as its melodic material, best outlined by the Philharmonic Winds:

[Holst’s Second Suite in E-Flat], composed in 1911, uses English folk songs and folk dance tunes throughout, being written at a time when Holst needed to rest from the strain of original composition. The opening march movement uses three tunes, the first of which is a lively morris dance. The folk song “Swansea Town” is next, played broadly and lyrically by the euphonium, followed by the entire band playing the tune in block harmonies - a typically English sound. “Claudy Banks” is the third tune, brimming with vitality and the vibrant sound of unison clarinets. The first two tunes are repeated to conclude the first movement. The second movement is a setting for the English folk song “I’ll Love My Love.” It is a sad story of a young maiden driven into Bedlam by grief over her lover being sent to sea by his parents to prevent their marriage. The Hampshire folk song, “The Song of the Blacksmith,” is the basis of the third movement, which evokes visions of the sparks from red hot metal being beaten with a lively hammer’s rhythm on the blacksmith’s anvil. The English country-dance and folk song, “The Dargason,” dating from the sixteenth century, completes the suite in a manner that continues to cycle and seems to have no end. The Elizabethan love tune “Greensleeves” is intertwined briefly and withdrawn before the final witty scoring of a piccolo and tuba duet four octaves apart.

For those interested in singing along with some Holst, many of the folk songs used in the Second Suite have their lyrics published on the internet:

From the “March”: “Morris Dance” is an instrumental dance; “Swansea Town” starts with the euphonium solo; “Claudy Banks” is the 6/8 section. That link leaves out the chorus, which you can find in Bob Garofalo’s great resource book, Folk Songs and Dances in Second Suite, as well as via his website.

“Song without Words” is actually “I Love My Love”.

“Song of the Blacksmith” lyrics can be found on Wikipedia.

“Fantasia on the Dargason”: The Dargason itself is an instrumental dance tune, related to popular melodies like “The Irish Washerwoman”.  This movement also includes “Greensleeves”, usually a sad-sounding song, as a rather joyous interlude and a powerful climax. – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Second Suite in F, Movement I: March

Second Suite in F, Movement II: Song without Words

Second Suite in F, Movement III: Song of the Blacksmith

Second Suite in F, Movement IV: Fantasia on the Dargason

Holst enjoyed arranging movements from the Second Suite into other classical music media:

Holst largely repeated this movement in his St. Paul’s Suite for orchestra:

Holst also wrote a chorale version of the “Song of the Blacksmith”:

There is also a choral version of “Song without Words”, titled “I Love My Love”:


-Adapted from the original post on Andy Pease's Wind Band Blog on Second Suite in F. Click here for the original post.


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