Sound of Mind 9 – Holst: St Paul’s Suite

If you’ve been following Arcana for the last week or so you will have seen the regular posts in the Sound of Mind series, which is aiming to provide some sort of musical comfort for those cooped up at home in these very strange times.

Today’s post is directly inspired by the most recent episode of University Challenge. That is not a sentence I thought I would ever type, but one of the musical questions was a quote from Holst‘s St Paul’s Suite, a wholly underrated work for strings that does not get the exposure it deserves.

Holst very cleverly uses a series of folk tunes and feeds them through the medium of the string orchestra. The four movements are notable for their clever use of these melodies but also their economy of expression and surprisingly deep emotion. The opening Jig sets a bracing, early morning mood, and the following Ostinato, after a silvery start, finds a similar mood.

The emotional heart of the suite is the Intermezzo, flavoured with the sort of Eastern melodic inflections Holst uses so effectively in his music, while the suite wraps up with a Dargason, where interweaving melodies are trumped by a hefty quotation of Greensleeves.

Watch the above performance, from the New York Classical Players, and enjoy!

Ben Hogwood