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Gustav Holst: "Hammersmith, Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 52"

Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 52

Gustav Holst

Born: September 21, 1874, Cheltenham, United Kingdom

Died: May 25, 1934, London, United Kingdom

Instrumentation: Military Band

Composed: 1930

Duration: 14:00

Gustav Holst's Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 52, was written in 1930 and premiered by the "President's Own" United States Marine Band at the American Bandmasters Association convention in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 1932. The premiere was conducted by the Marine Band's commander, Taylor Branson, although Holst himself was previously scheduled to conduct before falling ill. After the premiere, Hammersmith was forgotten by the musical community. In fact, many even forgot that it was played at all; the April 14, 1954 performance by the Kiltie Band of Carnegie-Mellon University is often wrongly considered the premiere, and the Marine Band Library thought that the original parts were lost. It was not until quite recently that the original 1932 Marine Band parts were uncovered, as can be seen below.

Original parts from the 1932 premiere of Hammersmith, taken at the "President's Own" United States Marine Band Music Library.

Click to expand.

Holst arranged Hammersmith for orchestra in 1931, and premiered in the same year, to a notably negative reaction; according to, "many people actually booed at Hammersmith's end." This aside, the original military band version has become a cornerstone of the repertoire.

Gustav Holst, Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 52

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, Col. Michael J. Colburn, conductor

Program note from the printed score:

Hammersmith is a Prelude and Scherzo which was commissioned by the BBC military band in 1930. Holst afterwards rewrote it for full orchestra.

Those who knew nothing of his forty-year-old affection for the Hammersmith district of London were puzzled at the title. The work is not program music. Its mood is the outcome of long years of familiarity with the changing crowds and the changing river: those Saturday night crowds, who were always good-natured even when they were being pushed off the pavement into the middle of the traffic, and the stall-holders in that narrow lane behind the Broadway, with their unexpected assortment of goods lit up by brilliant flares, and the large woman at the fruit shop who always called him "dearie" when he bough oranges for his Sunday picnics. As for the river, when he had known it since he was a student, when he paced up and down outside William Morris' house, discussing Ibsen with earnest young socialists. During all the years since then, his favorite London walk had been along the river-path to Chiswick.

In Hammersmith, the river is the background to the crowd: it is a river that goes on its way unnoticed and unconcerned.

- Program note from the printed score taken from Gustav Holst: A Biography, by Imogen Holst

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