Holst the Teacher

It was in 1907 that Cheltenham-born composer Gustav Holst became Director of Music at Morley College, Lambeth – formerly known as Morley Memorial College for Working Men & Women.

Holst was a well-liked teacher whose appointment lasted a total of seventeen years, and in 1910 he wrote the short choral fantasy Christmas Day for his students. Based on carols we all know and love, Christmas Day is the headline piece for our Christmas concert on Saturday the 15th of December at St Mary the Virgin, Lewisham.

Morley College itself opened in 1889 as a pioneering provider of adult education, and it continues to fulfil this role to this day. Holst’s time there was a particular highlight for the college with event space Holst Room named for him, and a portrait by William Rothenstein in 1920.

He was by no means the only artist associated with Morley College, his life-long friend and fellow composer Ralph Vaughan Williams – whose arrangement of O little town of Bethlehem also features in our Yuletide concert – taught there as well. Composer Michael Tippett filled Holst’s post of Director of Music in the 1940s, and artist Maggi Hambling is today both a tutor and a patron of Morley Gallery.

Holst also worked in many other parts of London: he was a teacher at James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich and at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, where he wrote his most famous work, the orchestral suite The Planets.

However, he didn’t appear to have any links with Lewisham, but we have discovered a wartime meeting between Holst and the grandfather of an LCS member when the composer taught British troops in Greece and Turkey.

Look out for more on this in our concert programme!

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