Correspondence of Gustav Holst, 1874-1934, composer, from William Gillies Whittaker, 1876-1944, composer

Scope and Content

7 letters to Gustav Holst from William Gillies Whittaker, 1912 to 1932. Vally Lasker Christmas card. Letter sent to subscribers for the repairs to Vally Lasker's sofa

Administrative / Biographical History

Gustav Holst, composer, was born Gustavus Theodore von Holst in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, on 21 September 1874 . The von Holsts were of Swedish origin though long settled in England.

At an early age Holst began to learn the violin and the pianoforte. He was educated at Cheltenham Grammar School where he started to set Macaulay's Horatius to music for chorus and orchestra. However, his father discouraged composition and wished him to be a virtuoso pianist, but neuritis prevented this and at the age of seventeen he was allowed to study counterpoint.

In 1893 his father sent him to the Royal College of Music, London, where he studied composition with C V Stanford. In 1895, the Royal College awarded Holst a scholarship but his neuritis became so bad that he could not hold an ordinary pen and his eyesight suffered severely. These two weaknesses persisted throughout his life.

In 1898 Holst became first trombone and repetiteur to the Carl Rosa Opera Company and shortly after joined the Scottish Orchestra as second trombone. He joined the Kelmscott House Socialist Club in Hammersmith and here he met Isobel, daughter of the artist Augustus Ralph Harrison, who he married in 1901. They had one daughter, Imogen, who followed her father's footsteps as composer and teacher.

In 1903, although still comparatively unknown, Holst decided to give up the trombone and devote himself to writing music. However, he soon found he could not live off his compositions and became a music teacher. The year 1914 marked the inception of Holst's most famous work, 'The Planets', a suite for orchestra, each movement being suggested by the astrological attribute of a planet. This was completed in 1917.

From 1919 to 1924 Holst was professor of composition at the Royal College of Music and he held a similar post at University College, Reading, from 1919 to 1923. In his later years Holst's constant companion was his daughter, and whenever they could meet, he and his lifelong friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams, would spend whole days discussing their compositions. He died in London of heart failure following an operation 25 May 1934.

Source: R Vaughan Williams, 'Holst, Gustav Theodore 1874-1934', Dictionary of National Biography (London, 1949)


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information

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Acquisition Information

Gift : Imogen Holst : October 1974 : ACCN 4286

Other Finding Aids

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Applications for permission to quote should be sent to Archives and Special Collections, please email:

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 247 procedures

Custodial History

Held by the family of Gustav Holst


None expected

Related Material

GB 247 MS Whittaker Papers of William Gillies Whittaker; GB 247 MS Gen 1350-1352 Manuscripts from the personal library of William Gillies Whittaker; GB 2027 Add MSS 47804-838, 52915, 57863-910 Correspondence, compositions and notes books of Gustav Holst (British Library, Music Collections); GB 058 Add MS 56726 Papers of Gustav Holst (British Library, Manuscript Collections)