On 25 May 1934 Gustav Holst went in for surgery to have a duodenal ulcer removed. Not long after he was dead, having suffered heart failure during the operation. The death of her father appeared, initially, to have little impact on Imogen’s life. Of a stoical nature, she got on with things, including her work, and showed little grief. Importantly, however, part of Imogen’s ‘work’ from this point on would be the promotion of her father’s musical legacy and reputation. She devoted no small amount of her time and energy on this, and lived a very frugal life, spending most of her father’s legacy on publications and performances of his music.
Part of her archive reflects this devotion, as it consists of hundreds of files of notes and research that Imogen compiled on Gustav’s life and works. It was while I was cataloguing a series of Imogen’s biographical files on Gustav that I came across this illogically small photocopy of a musical score.
I hunted through more papers while a colleague (who happened to be passing while I was staring, slightly perplexed, at the score) conducted some internet research. It soon became apparent that this was a copy of the musical score that Holst had contributed to Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.
The Dolls’ House is a rather remarkable thing: it was designed by Edwin Lutyens, built in 1924, and came complete with a landscaped garden by Gertrude Jekyll, running water, electricity, a lift, a fully stocked wine cellar (including five dozen bottles of miniature Veuve Clicquot), 750 works of art, 200 works of literature and scores from 25 musicians — all created on a scale of 1:12! The names of those who contributed these tiny works include Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Paul Nash, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A E Houseman, Somerset Maugham and of course Gustav Holst.
Not everyone however was eager to participate in this royal project. Elgar resolutely refused, as did Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw, whose lectures Holst had attended when he was a member of the Hammersmith Socialist Society. It is easy to see how the Dolls’ House may have seemed at the time an act of royal whimsy, but it has proved to be a remarkable document of British interwar design, art, literature and lifestyle. Unblemished by later renovations and change, the house and contents offer a perfectly preserved snapshot of the period.
The copy of Gustav’s miniature score (Four Songs for Voice and Violin) that Imogen collected is not intrinsically a valuable archive. For a start, it is a photocopy of an original; and it is largely illegible owing to the poor quality of the copy. But this one very small item has value for what it reveals of Gustav’s standing as a musician in the early part of the twentieth century, and of his daughter’s determination to preserve and document every aspect her father’s life and work.
This post brings us to a juncture in the Holst Archive Project, as we move from cataloguing Imogen’s papers to those of Gustav, which form a sizeable portion of the archive. It is also my last post as Project Archivist. I am moving on to another project, but my successor will pick up the reins in the next few weeks, so keep checking for further posts.
And finally, if you have not heard already, the Holst Birthplace Museum suffered water damage in June of this year and is currently trying to raise funds for repairs.The water caused severe damage to some of the period rooms and part of the collection, resulting in the closure of the museum. Please help if you can – Imogen donated many archives and items to the museum, which now form an important companion collection to the Holst Archive here at the Britten-Pears Foundation.
You can find out how to donate at the Help Holst page.
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