In 1913, not long before the immediate and lasting success of The Planets, Gustav Holst (an English composer of Swedish descent) wrote his St Paul’s Suite. It was written in gratitude to St. Paul’s Girls’ School, where he was Director of Music, for having provided him with a large soundproof room for his work.
Along with his lifelong friend Vaughan Williams, Holst shared an admiration for the simplicity and economy of folk song. This is very much in evidence in St. Paul’s Suite – particularly in the ‘Finale’ which is arranged here. This last movement cleverly interweaves two of the most recognisable folk tunes – the Dargason (which is the subtitle of the movement), and Greensleeves. In fact Dargason is heard, with varying harmonic and rhythmic variations, no fewer than 30 times – and the juxtaposition of the Greensleeves melody creates a fabulous polyphony with two time signatures running concurrently in different parts. Holst’s sound world is quintessentially English.