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Film Cheltenham and House Full Productions presents

Holst: In the Bleak Midwinter

21 September
Holst: In the Bleak Midwinter

Directed & Introduced by Tony Palmer

To celebrate the birthday of Cheltenham’s greatest son, we are showing this wonderful documentary, the first and only full-length film made about him. Its director, Tony Palmer, is coming from London to join us.

You may have seen our very own composer cast in bronze in Imperial Gardens. You may know ‘Mars’, the noisiest of The Planets. Or ‘Jupiter’, whose big tune he lent to ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’ (1921). Or the Christmas carol tune that provides the title of this film.

Holst is more than that. Born in 1874 in Pittville Terrace, he was asthmatic, short-sighted (no-one noticed) and had a near-paralysed right arm. He lost his mother at seven; his step-mother ignored him. His father Adolph von Holst, organist at All Saint’s Church, taught him piano, but also gave him a trombone for the good of his lungs. At Cheltenham Grammar he was called ‘Sausage’, because of athletic failings and his German-sounding surname. He took solace in writing songs and planning operas, despite discouragement.

At 17, he became choir master at Wyck Rissington, traipsing 15 miles each way every Sunday. At 18, his dad borrowed £100 to send him to London. There he met Ralph Vaughan Williams and learnt about orchestration, singing, conducting, vegetarianism, teetotalism, William Morris, English folk song, Hindu scripture, Sanskrit, Algerian street culture, the poetry of Walt Whitman, astrology, Christian socialism, Irish republicanism, sound recording, war, death and the universe. Only as the Armistice approached did he drop the ‘von’ from his family name. In time, his compositions were acclaimed internationally, but undervalued at home.

All his life, he composed mostly on Sundays and taught the rest of the time. He taught musical outcasts, which meant women and girls; country folk; factory workers; demobbed soldiers in Salonica; jazz musicians in America; people with missing limbs and broken instruments; the poor; anyone prepared to work hard.

He died, aged 59, in May 1934, between Elgar and Delius. The London newspapers said he could have been up there with those Great British Composers if he hadn’t worn himself out teaching children and amateurs. But that’s why we love him.

After attending university, Tony Palmer became a BBC trainee, apprenticed to Ken Russell and Jonathan Miller. His debut film, about Benjamin Britten, was the first BBC documentary to be networked in the USA. He subsequently made more than 100 films with and/or about such luminaries as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Igor Stravinsky, Maria Callas, Liberace, Peter Sellers, Bobby Moore, Wagner, NASA, The Wigan Casino, Fairport Convention and Pieter Dirk-Uiys. Wiki him and marvel!

He has also found time to direct 17 operas, write eight interesting books, music criticism for The Observer and a weekly column in The Spectator. We are honoured to have him as our guest.

Times & Prices

Date Time Venue Full Price Concessions
Tuesday, 21st September 2021 19:00 Main House £10 -