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Gustav Hoist: Gustav Hoist (b. Cheltenham, 21 Sept 1874; d. London, 25 May 1934).
Of Swedish descent, Gustav Hoist was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, in 1874. His father taught music and his mother was a pianist. Much of his youth was spent in music-making: he played the organ in a local church and conducted for a choral society. But he w as especially drawn to composition and studied this at the Royal College of Music in London, where his main teacher was Stanford; a fellow - pupil, Vaughan Williams, became a lifelong friend. He also studied the piano, organ and trombone, and after leaving the College he earned his living mainly as an orchestral trombonist.
In 1903, approaching thirty, he changed direction and became a teacher, remaining so for the rest of his life. His two main posts were the musical directorships of St Paul's Girls' School and Morley College, an adult institution; both of these were in London. He also taught composition at the Royal College of Music from 19 19 to 1923. In February 1923 he had a fall and suffered slight concussion. This seems to have weakened his constitution, never very robust, and his health during the remaining eleven years of his life was poor. Yet it was at this time that his reputation as a composer consolidated itself. In 1923 he visited the USA to conduct his own music at Michigan University; he went again to the USA subsequently, and though he refused the honorary degrees offered him there he accepted (in 1930) the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.
Gustav Hoist does not seem to have enjoyed his eminence. He took little interest in public affairs and, save to a few close friends, mainly musical ones, he seemed a remote figure though not an unkindly one. His daughter Imogen, herself a musician and teacher who has written about him with sympathy and insight, tells us that at times he sank into a 'cold region of utter despair ... a grey isolation'. He felt he had lost touch with the human warmth which makes music lovable. But he did not cease to compose: his last music dates from 1933, the year before his death in London.
Gustav Hoist today is a well-known name largely on the strength of one work, the colourful and brilliantly scored orchestral suite The Planets (1916). This astrologically-inspired piece symbolises his interest in Eastern mysticism, as do his settings of hymns from the Hindu Rig-Veda (1908-12), the austerely beautiful opera Sdvitri (1908) and the choral-orchestral Hymn of Jesus (1917). Here his visionary qualities are unmistakable. A more homely, folk-inspired side of the composer is to be found in his Somerset Rhapsody for orchestra (1907), dedicated to Cecil Sharp, and the Shakespea-rean opera At the Boar's Head (1924), in both of which he used folk melody. The keen teacher and amateur music-maker may be seen behind the composition of some attractive military band music, and he also wrote some children's songs.
Nevertheless, to come fully to terms with Gustav Hoist's genius one should know such music as the Ode to Death (to Whitman's words, 1919) and the Choral Symphony with its text by Keats (1924); the neo-classical and/or polytonal music such as the Fugal Overture (1922) and Concerto for two violins (1929); the Four Songs for voice and violin (1917) and the masterly Twelve Songs to poems by Humbert Wolfe (1929) -in these, his last songs, the music recalls late Debussy in its combination of restraint and intense feeling. Gustav Hoist's own favourite work, which he considered his best, was the orchestral tone-poem Egdon Heath (1927), inspired by a description in a Hardy novel. 'Haggard Egdon', Hardy wrote, 'appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct... than that which responds to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.' The same may perhaps be said of some of Gustav Hoist's music: it makes few concessions to popularity, but seems likelv to endure.
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