Gustav Holst has earned a place among the most revered of late 19th and early 20th century composers and is best known for his enduring Orchestral suite The Planets.
But before that great work, in his use of Englsh folksongs, Gnostic texts and these Vedic hymns, one can discern Holst’s search for a compositional Voice beyond the constraints of the European canon in the early 1900’s. Some see composition of the Vedic Hymns as a turning point in Holst’s compositional life. The quality is not completely consistent, and Holst remained true to his Western musical inheritance for the most part in setting them, but as art songs they are deeply felt and moving to hear.
The nine songs are scored for mezzo-Soprano or baritone Voice. The texts are taken from the Rigveda, one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism and the oldest religious text in the world.
The first set of three comprises Ushas, Varuna and Maruts, or Dawn, Sky and Stormclouds respectively. The second includes Indra (God of Storm and Battle), Varuna II (the Waters) and Song of the Frogs. The third group moves into the human sphere with Vac (Speech), Creation and Faith.