Gustav Holst, Songs of the West, and the English Folk Song Movement

This article appeared in the Folk Music Journal for 2011 (Vol 10, No. 1, p. 5 - 41. It deals with the use of folk songs from Sabine Baring-Gould's book Songs of the West by Gustav Holst in 1906 for his orchestral piece of the same name. It appears here by permission of the Editor and of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

The abstract for the article reads as follows:

Although Gustav Holst never collected English folk songs himself, he was very familiar with them through his friendship with Ralph Vaughan Williams and other collectors such as Cecil Sharp and William Gillies Whittaker. He used a number of them in his compositions and made several arrangements of folk songs collected by others. His first work founded on folk song was Songs of the West, based on Sabine Baring-Gould's collection of songs from Devon and Cornwall - a companion piece to Somerset Rhapsody, which was based on Sharp's collection. While Somerset Rhapsody went on to become one of Holst's better-known works, Songs of the West has been largely forgotten.

Holst arranged sixteen songs from George Gardiner's Hampshire collection for the Novello series Folk Songs of England, as well as creating a number of choral arrangements of traditional songs. Through his friendship with Sharp he became a strong supporter of the English Folk Dance Society and taught at a number of their summer schools. His choral ballet The Morning of the Year introduced traditional English dances under the direction of co-producer Douglas Kennedy, and was performed in 1927 by the English Folk Dance Society in support of the Cecil Sharp Memorial Fund. This article considers Holst's engagement with English folk music, the genesis of his Songs of the West, and his wider contribution to the folk music movement in the early part of the twentieth century.

You can read the full article here