The Young Imogen

The Holst Archive Project is moving quickly towards completion- with just two months remaining before we launch the online catalogue. In the past few days, Imogen’s and Gustav’s papers have come to fruition and are very nearly complete, with the exception of Imogen’s fairly extensive collection of photographs, on which our team of project volunteers are working hard to identify and list.

Over the remaining few weeks, I will be sorting and cataloguing the papers (all 94 boxes worth!) of G&I Holst Ltd., and The Holst Foundation; two companies set up by Imogen Holst to deal with the estates and legacy of the Holst family, specifically the music of Gustav Holst, and the encouragement and funding of new musicians. Among the boxes and files of financial and administrative papers connected with the two companies sit some treasures of the collection, original materials that offer a glimpse into Imogen Holst’s life, character and personality from the very beginning.

A prominent member of the Holst Foundation, former pupil of, and devoted friend to Imogen Holst in her later life, Rosamund Strode furnishes us with information surrounding Imogen that is apparent nowhere else in the collection. With a view to writing a full biography, and commissioned by the Holst Foundation itself, Rosamund compiled yearly files of information, memorabilia, correspondence, and original materials concerning the life of Imogen, along with other extensive background and biographical materials.

From Imogen’s first school report from the kindergarten of the Froebel Educational Institute, describing her as ‘an affectionate little girl with very tidy and careful habits’, to programmes of concerts and awards ceremonies in which Imogen demonstrated and proved her musicality and talent, right through to the award of an Octavia scholarship to travel Europe in the early 1930s. These files are invaluable in the documentation of Imogen’s life by someone other than herself. They include materials and perspectives that can only come from a third party; reminiscences of encounters with Imogen as a pupil, a teacher, a colleague, and a friend, and materials drawn from all over to construct an impression of a life.


Imogen Holst’s first school report, age 5, from the Kindergarten of Froebel Educational Institute, 1912. Found in the Rosamund Strode papers [Copyright: Holst Foundation]

In fact, Imogen’s reports make for fantastically interesting, and often amusing, reading, with her talent and skill in subjects such as music and art often being acknowledged, while her lessened interest in, and capacity for, science based subjects being apparent in her teachers’ comments of ‘fair’ and ‘adequate’; very much akin to ‘must try harder’. In fact, even at the very early age of five years (and three months), her teachers commented on her ‘good sense of rhythm’ and ‘small’ yet ‘tuneful’ voice. Some of the reports are accompanied by small watercolour paintings and sketches, and loose sheets of work, right through from very first attempts at writing the alphabet, to poetry and creative writing full of imagination and invention. Evidently, even when witnessed through such limited snapshots of Imogen’s school years, we begin to see justification of her teachers’ comments.


A Valentine note written by Imogen Holst at Eothen School in 1919, age 11. Found in the Rosamund Strode papers [Copyright: Holst Foundation]

While Imogen’s later diaries, reports, articles, manuscripts and correspondence reveal the Imogen of more mature years, these collected biographical files uncover someone different, although not entirely unrecognisable- the young Imogen Holst: child, daughter, and schoolgirl. It may be questioned whether such original materials should be incorporated back into Imogen’s own papers, sitting alongside her personal documents of adult years. However, I feel that they reside much more at ease where they ultimately came to rest, amongst Rosamund’s comprehensive research files; files in which we can truly witness Imogen’s life through the eyes of another, and which contain the very materials that another felt reflected the Imogen she knew.


If you are interested further in Imogen as a person and a musician, or if you would like to learn more about the collection itself, take a look at our new website where you can read a biography of Imogen, explore her Aldeburgh home, and see some highlights from the collection.


Project Archivist


Featured Image: A page of Imogen Holst’s schoolwork from her time at the Froebel Educational Institute. Found in the Rosamund Strode papers [Copyright: Holst Foundation]


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