Tuesday July 18 2017

Missing for over a hundred years, two pieces of music by the renowned English composer Gustav Holst have been rediscovered in the library of a community orchestra, the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia, in Tauranga, New Zealand.

‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ and ‘Two Songs Without Words’ were both written in 1906. The second of these was copied and published, but ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ was performed only once. Both manuscripts were considered lost and, remarkably, were found during a tidy-up of the BOP Symphonia’s music library, 20,000 km from where they originated.

From left: Bronya Dean, Gloria Pheasant and Justus Rozemond examine the score of ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’. Image by Fiona Dean.

Justus Rozemond, Music Director of BOP Symphonia, remembers the initial discovery. “Our librarian, Gloria Pheasant, and I were cleaning up the sheet music library a few years ago. We were throwing away tons of old photocopies and found these hand-written scores. We didn’t really believe we were holding genuine Holst manuscripts, but there was just enough of a tingle of excitement not to throw them away.”

Justus and Gloria established that the hand-writing looked rather like Holst’s, and that he had in fact lived at the address written on the music at the top of the page, but even then, they initially refused to believe its authenticity. They instead put the scores away in a drawer. Only last month further research established that the documents, which had been considered lost for eternity, were in fact genuine.

Some of the missing pieces of the puzzle were filled in by orchestra member, Bronya Dean. She explains the first breakthrough: “We contacted the Britten-Pears Foundation who hold the Holst Archive in England and almost immediately received a reply excitedly saying that the signatures and handwriting were original and authentic. We were staggered. How did these manuscripts end up in a filing cabinet in our music library in New Zealand?”

The front page of ‘Two Songs without words’ showing Holst’s address. Image by Fiona Dean.

The investigation has followed several leads and struck a few dead ends, but the most compelling connection is the English flautist Stanley Farnsworth, who conducted a predecessor of the BOP Symphonia in the 1960s. Bronya says, “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth, but unfortunately that’s as far as the trail goes. We have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst. It would be great to think that someone who hears this news might know more, and be able to help us complete the puzzle.”

In the meantime, one thing beyond doubt is that the music is unique. Colin Matthews, of the Holst Foundation in the UK, says, “These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form.”

What BOPS will do with the manuscripts is not yet decided, but Justus notes, “We know they are special, but we also appreciate that their proper home is probably back in the UK where they will be more accessible to Holst researchers. Regardless of what happens, BOP Symphonia will perform the music here in Tauranga. In the case of ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’, this may be for the first time in over one hundred years. It will be an exciting moment.”

Explore the Holst Archive by searching our catalogue and the Holst Archive website.

Click here to find out more about Bay of Plenty Symphonia.