Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gustav Holst and Blavatsky

London’s Independent newspaper for April 15 has a revealing review of a film that will be shown on BBC 4 in the U.K. on Easter Sunday (April 24). The film, In the Bleak Midwinter, about the English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934), “contains more than a few startling revelations about this apparently quiet and enigmatic figure.”

“Holst’s The Planets is one of the best-known pieces of classical music written by a British composer,” the reviewer notes.

But the central spur of the planned Seven Large Pieces for Orchestra was neither astrological nor political: it was Theosophy. This spirituality, pioneered by Helena Blavatsky, was immensely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, influencing figures as diverse as the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, the artist Paul Gauguin and the poet WB Yeats. It drew on Eastern philosophies, and Holst was involved in it enough to learn Sanskrit. Many of his works have an intense Eastern flavour, including the three-part suite Beni Mora, his Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and the operas Savitri and Sita.

The rest of the review can be read here.

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