First Suite in E-flat (1921)

From Wind Repertory Project
Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

This work bears the designation Opus 28, No. 1.

General Info

Year: 1909 / 1921
Duration: c. 10:45
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Cost: Score and Parts – Out of print.

For availability information, see Discussion tab, above.

Movements (played without pause)

1. Chaconne - 4:45
2. Intermezzo - 2:55
3. March - 3:00


Full Score
D-flat Piccolo/Flute
C Piccolo/Flute
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet/Bass Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Cornet I-II
B-flat Trumpet
B-flat Flugelhorn I-II
E-flat Horn or Alto I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Side Drum
  • Tambourine
  • Triangle


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the First Suite in E-flat by Gustav Holst, now considered one of the masterworks and cornerstones of the band literature. Although completed in 1909, the suite didn't receive its official premiere until 11 years later on June 23rd, 1920, by an ensemble of 165 musicians at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. However, the work was originally conceived to be performed by ensembles significantly smaller than the one at Kneller Hall. During this time period there was no standardized instrumentation among the hundreds of British military bands of the day, and as a result no significant literature had been previously written for the band medium; most British bands up to then performed arrangements of popular orchestral pieces. In order to ensure the suite would be accessible to as many bands as possible, Holst ingeniously scored the work so that it could be played by a minimum of 19 musicians, with 16 additional parts that could be added or removed without compromising the integrity of the work.

There are three movements in the suite: Chaconne, Intermezzo, and March. Holst writes, “As each movement is founded on the same phrase, it is requested that the suite be played right through without a break.” Indeed, the first three notes of the Chaconne are Eb, F and C, and the first three notes of the melody when it first appears in the Intermezzo are Eb, F, and C. In the third movement, March, Holst inverts the motive: The first note heard in the brilliant opening brass medley is an Eb, but instead of rising, it descends to a D, and then a G; the exact opposite of the first two movements.

The Chaconne begins with a ground bass reminiscent of those written by Henry Purcell or William Byrd. It is performed by tuba, euphonium and string bass and is repeated throughout the ensemble sixteen full times as varying instrumental textures and variations of the theme are layered within it. Following a delicately scored chamber setting of the theme, the music steadily builds to a brilliant Eb Major chord that concludes the movement.

The Intermezzo is light and brisk and features soloistic passages for the cornet, oboe and clarinet. Holst prominently displays the agility and sensitivity of the wind band through transparent textures and passages where the melody and accompaniment are woven into a variety of instrumental settings.

The March begins suddenly. It consists of two themes, the first of which, performed by brass choir and percussion, is a march light in character. The second theme is dominated by the woodwinds and is composed of a long, lyrical line reminiscent of the original Chaconne melody. The movement concludes with both themes intertwining as the band crescendos to a climax.

- Program Note by Esmail Khalili

Gustav Hoist’s First Suite in E-flat for Military Band occupies a legendary position in the wind band repertory and can be seen, in retrospect, as one of the earliest examples of the modern wind band instrumentation still frequently performed today. Its influence is so significant that several composers have made quotation or allusion to it as a source of inspiration to their own works.

Hoist began his work with Chaconne, a traditional Baroque form that sets a series of variations over a ground bass theme. That eight-measure theme is stated at the outset in tubas and euphoniums and, in all, fifteen variations are presented in quick succession. The three pitches that begin the work -- E-flat, F, and B-flat, ascending -- serve as the generating cell for the entire work, as the primary theme of each movement begins in exactly the same manner. Hoist also duplicated the intervallic content of these three pitches, but descended, for several melodic statements (a compositional trick not dissimilar to the inversion process employed by the later serialist movement, which included such composers as Schoenberg and Webern). These inverted melodies contrast the optimism and bright energy of the rest of the work, typically introducing a sense of melancholy or shocking surprise. The second half of the Chaconne, for instance, presents a somber inversion of the ground bass that eventually emerges from its gloom into the exuberant final variations.

The Intermezzo, which follows is a quirky rhythmic frenzy that contrasts everything that has preceded it. This movement opens in C minor, and starts and stops with abrupt transitions throughout its primary theme group. The contrasting midsection is introduced with a mournful melody, stated in F Dorian by the clarinet before being taken up by much of the ensemble. At the movement’s conclusion, the two sections are woven together, the motives laid together in complementary fashion in an optimistic C major.

The March that follows immediately begins shockingly, with a furious trill in the woodwinds articulated by aggressive statements by brass and percussion. This sets up the lighthearted and humorous mood for the final movement, which eventually does take up the more reserved and traditional regal mood of a British march and is simply interrupted from time to time by an uncouth accent or thunderous bass drum note. The coda of the work makes brief mention of elements from both the Chaconne and Intermezzo before closing joyfully.

- Program Note by Jacob Wallace for the Baylor Wind Ensemble concert program, 19 December 2014


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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