Postgraduate Research Seminar

  • Annika Forkert (Invited speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


Gustav Holst, an English Schoenberg

Gustav Holst and Arnold Schoenberg are perhaps not as antithetical as commonly imagined in musicological thought – not only did both reject their audiences’ appreciation, but they also used traditional forms for their most advanced compositional contents. Just as Schoenberg had said his final goodbye to Gurrelieder in his String Quartet no 2, Gustav Holst left the accessible style of The Planets behind for increasingly idiosyncratic music. With its serene dynamic surface, cryptic form, and shifting tonal centres, the orchestral piece Egdon Heath of 1927 is a paradigm for this later development. It quickly became Holst’s favourite among his own pieces, but it found little sympathy among critics who had been eyeing his progress to ‘bleakness’ and ‘austerity’ with suspicion.
Yet the similarities to Schoenberg come to an end where Holst ultimately clung to tonality and traditional formal procedures in Egdon Heath. The common definitions of Schoenbergian modernism cannot encompass such deviations from the narrow path from tonality to serialism, but the procedures of Holst’s piece nevertheless demand a place among the most innovative music of its time. For what makes Egdon Heath worthy of consideration as modernist despite its traditionalist ‘shortcomings’ is Holst’s insistence on holding up the contradictions between old and new, romanticist and modernist, to such a degree in his themes and his formal structures as to render them insoluble.
In this paper I demonstrate how this rejection of a solution for or against modernism enables an understanding of the piece as modernist in the first instance. Drawing upon the structure of three of Egdon Heath’s themes and its overall form, the reactionary elements are in perfect balance with the revolutionary ones, representing one of the three responses to the Event in recent theories of history, politics, and art in the work of Alain Badiou.
Period30 Apr 2013
Event typeSeminar
LocationNottingham, United KingdomShow on map