Work: Hammersmith Prelude and Scherzo
About This Work
Composed in 1930 on commission from the BBC, Gustav Holst's Hammersmith is a two-part tone poem that creates a musical impression of the Hammersmith section of London where Holst taught school for nearly 30 years. Originally written for military
band, Hammersmith was later transcribed for orchestra and received its premiere performance in that form in 1931. Curiously, the original and more effective version for band was not performed until 1954, 20 years after Holst's death.
The Prelude section of this work evokes the quiet river flowing, apparently unconcerned and often unnoticed, through Hammersmith. Although the use of the tuba and euphonium in the opening phrases of this section create a rather ominous setting, the Prelude carries a contemplative mood emphasized by a warmth and sensitivity which Holst rarely allowed himself in his other compositions.
The Prelude gives way to the Scherzo section, which paints a musical picture of the lively and good-natured people who populate the Hammersmith section of London. The raucous good humor of the Saturday night crowds, the street vendors hawking their wares, and the often chaotic mood of city life are all given their due in the overlapping snatches of musical lines that are passed between the instrumental sections. As the Scherzo closes, the reflective mood of the Prelude reemerges to conclude the work on a note of contentment and tranquillity.
The Lyric movement of this piece which was included in the orchestral version, but not in the original band composition was written during Holst's last illness and shows a tender austerity in its soulful solo viola line and lyrical orchestration.
The most impressionistic of Holst's compositions for band, Hammersmith shows the apogee of his compositional skill and understanding of the expressive capabilities of the concert band. It conveys the concert band away from the limitations of the parade field and creates a solid foundation for band repertoire to take its place as a serious musical medium.
-- Corie Stanton Root
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