Gustav Holst and his association with Thaxted
Gustav Holst first visited Thaxted in 1913 when on a walking holiday in north-west Essex. He decided he must return. The next year he and his wife rented a cottage in Monk Street, a small hamlet south of Thaxted. The cottage is no longer in existence due initially to a fire and then road widening. It was here that Holst worked on “The Planets.” He had been declared unfit for military service; this, compounded by their name being von Holst, caused some suspicions amongst their neighbours. The authorities, however, were unconcerned.
Conrad Noel, the vicar of Thaxted, and Holst soon became friends with Holst taking a great interest in the church choir. In 1916 Gustav organised a Whitsun Festival in the church. He was Director of Music at Morley College and some of his students came to Thaxted to be part of the festival. One who came then was Jack Putterill, who also has a place in Thaxted history. The festival in this form was repeated in 1917 and 1918.
In 1917 the family moved into Thaxted to live in “The Steps” now called “The Manse” in Town Street. A blue plaque is beside the front door. In those days it was a quiet place to work. Holst wrote several pieces specially for Thaxted including “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.”
Sadly, the Whitsuntide festival ceased after 1918. Holst was abroad for much of the year working for the YMCA, undertaking the role of Musical Organiser for troops of the Army of the Black Sea. Unfortunately for Thaxted, when the Whitsuntide concerts were revived, St Pauls School, Holst's employer, insisted that the venue should be Dulwich. Conrad Noel's communist rants from the pulpit had become too much for the parents of the St Pauls pupils, and so Thaxted lost for a time a great annual event. Fortunately a music festival in the months of June and July was restarted in 1980 by the late Michael Snow and flourishes still today. (See the website www.thaxtedfestival.org.uk )
Holst continued to take an important part in the music in the Parish Church in many ways. This included playing the Lincoln organ which is now in need of restoration. (See the website www.thaxtedlincolnorgan.org )
After a head-injury in February 1923, he began to show the signs of overwork and, on strict medical advice, retired back to his beloved Thaxted for a long holiday, spending only one day a week in London. He continued to be involved with the Parish Church and its choir up until 1925 when he left Thaxted to live in at Brook End, a large Elizabethan house, some distance from Thaxted'
He held Thaxted in his thoughts for the rest of his life and Thaxted holds Gustav Holst in its heart. His works are still being played and sung in the town from the Church to the local public houses.
Holst died in 1934 at the age of fifty-nine.
A booklet, “Gustav Holst and Thaxted” by Imogen Holst, is available to visitors to Thaxted from the Parish Church and the Community Information Centre. It is a short account of his association with Thaxted and includes letters he wrote later.
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