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Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo

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Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst

General Info

Year: 1930 (published in 1956)
Duration: c. 13:20
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
Cost: Score and Parts - $85.00   |   Score Only - $16.50

Movements (played without pause)

1. Prelude - 4:00
2. Scherzo - 9:35


Full Score
Flute I-II (both parts doubling Piccolo)
Oboe I-II (II optional')
Bassoon I-II (II optional')
E-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II (II optional)
B-flat Soprano Clarinet Solo-I-II-III
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
B-flat Cornet Solo-I-II
B-flat Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Percussion (2 players), including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Glockenspiel
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tam-Tam
  • Triangle
  • Xylophone


In Parts

  • Flute I, m.74-75: The page turn is impossible. Make a copy of the following page.
  • Oboe, m.273: First note of last triplet should be a D.
  • Oboe, m.407: Last note of triplet should be E, not F#.
  • Bassoons, m.386: Note should be G#, not B#.
  • Bassoons, m.406: Second half note should be a G.
  • B-flat Soprano Clarinet I, m.177: First eighth note should be Eb-flat, not E-natural.
  • Alto Saxophones, m.125: Eighth note should be an F, not a G.
  • B-flat Trumpet I-II, m.101-102 & m.104-105: Accents should mirror the cornet part (as in the score)
  • Horn in F I-II, m.109-110: Part should have an A-natural in the first measure, and a D-natural in the next.
  • Trombone II, 2nd m. of T: Eighth rest missing at the beginning of the measure.
  • Tuba, m.39: The second eighth note (lower octave) should be a G, not an A.
  • Tuba, m.346: Add missing # to first note.

Program Notes

Nineteen long years passed between the composition of Holst's last two works for winds, the Second Suite in F and the masterful Hammersmith. Commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for its military band, Hammersmith was Holst's first band work for professional musicians, the earlier suites having been composed for amateur bands. Holst was to have conducted the first performance at the third annual convention of the American Bandmasters Association, but he was forced to cancel his appearance due to illness. The premiere took place as scheduled on April 17, 1932, at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. by the United States Marine Band led by their director, Taylor Branson. Hammersmith (in its original incarnation, Holst later re-wrote it for symphony orchestra) remained unpublished and did not receive another performance until nearly 22 years later. When that long-delayed second performance finally arrived, it was given by an American band (the Kiltie Band of the Carnegie Institute of Technology -- now Carnegie Melon University -- in Pittsburgh, Penn., on 14 April 1954, Robert Cantrick, conductor).

The score bears the dedication "To the Author of the Water Gypsies." This author is Alan P. Herbert, and his 1930 novel deals with a working-class girl from Hammersmith who shares her life with two very different types of men: An illiterate barge worker and an artist, a duality that obviously appealed to Holst.

Hammersmith is a Prelude and Scherzo, its composition a result of Holst's long familiarity with the Hammersmith metropolitan borough of London, which sits on the Thames River. At the time, 125,000 inhabitants were packed into an area of 3.6 square miles. Holst's fascination with the duality of his surroundings is reflected in his composition. The Prelude (representing the inexorable, "unnoticed and unconcerned" river) is slow and unconcerned, reflecting a duality in its very key: E Major set against F minor. The Scherzo (representing the Cockney street markets and the laughing, bustling crowds) is boisterous, exuberant, and vulgar. The music and mood of the Prelude returns at the end of the composition, bringing us back to the great slow-moving river, passing relentlessly out to sea.

- Program Notes by Nikk Pilato

Hammersmith was commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and was completed in 1930. It is named for the well-known West London borough upon the river Thames where Holst lived and worked for many years of his life. Holst was set to conduct the piece’s premiere on April 17, 1932, with the United States Marine Band at the third annual convention of the American Bandmasters Association. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his appearance due to illness. The premiere took place under the Marine Band’s conductor Taylor Branson, and then fell out of sight for twenty-two years. The piece was not performed again until Robert Cantrick at Carnegie Mellon University revived it in 1954. Since then, Hammersmith has achieved “cornerstone” status in the wind band repertoire, receiving countless performances and becoming the source of much debate over its origin and meaning.

Hammersmith traditionally has been interpreted on a programmatic level despite Holst’s daughter Imogen’s insistence that it is not program music (that is, music that is intended to evoke images or convey the impression of events). But Imogen also writes:

Hammersmith’s mood is the outcome of long years of [Holst’s] familiarity with the changing crowds and the changing river: those Saturday night crowds, who were always good-natured even when they were being pushed off the pavement into the middle of the traffic, and the stallholders in that narrow lane behind the Broadway, with their unexpected assortment of goods lit up by brilliant flares, and the large woman at the fruit shop who always called him ‘dearie’ when he bought oranges for his Sunday picnics. As for the river, he had known it since he was a student, when he paced up and down outside William Morris’s house, discussing Ibsen with earnest young socialists. During all the years since then, his favorite London walk had been along the river-path to Chiswick. In Hammersmith, the river is the background to the crowd; it is a river that goes on its way unnoticed and unconcerned.”

With all of this offered imagery, it is difficult not to interpret Hammersmith as a direct representation of the actual place it was named for. Under this programmatic interpretation, the tuba and euphonium heard at the very beginning along with a melody in the horns are said to represent the river Thames, meandering along its path “unnoticed and unconcerned.” The lively section that follows (scherzo) represents the boisterous crowds that populate Hammersmith’s streets. We can easily imagine ourselves in the shoes of someone who has ventured from the banks of the river into the crowded marketplaces and loud taverns. What this interpretation fails to fully account for, however, is an unaccompanied clarinet solo that suddenly appears halfway through the piece. Many have explained this moment as a respite from the streets, or a retreat back to the river, but to a keen listener, the clarinet melody is simply too different in tone and presentation for this programmatic interpretation to be completely satisfying. Nonetheless, it has remained popular over the years.

A new theory put forth by University of Georgia alumnus Evan Harger (2015) posits that Hammersmith is best understood from a philosophical viewpoint. Broadly speaking, Holst’s personal beliefs dictate that each individual is made up of three parts, or characters: The Mystic, one’s ability to communicate with God; The Philistine, filled with prejudice, rational to a fault, and a slave to reason (a decidedly negative quality); and The Artist, one’s capacity to communicate our knowledge of God to others through art. Together, The Mystic, Philistine, and Artist form Holst’s version of the Trinity. Despite its attempts, The Mystic can never convert The Philistine; their blind faith and common sense intellect are simply too incompatible. But The Artist can, and is therefore in many ways more powerful than The Mystic In Harger’s theory, The Mystic is presented first in Hammersmith by the tuba, euphonium, and horn melodies. They are serene, secure, and beautiful in their simplicity. The scherzo introduces The Philistine in the form of a fugue -– a highly mathematical and intellectual musical form. Conflict ensues. Suddenly, represented by the solo clarinet, The Artist enters and transfixes The Philistine with a humble melody. As other instruments join in, a conversation takes places between these two characters, and progress is made. As in life, however, this union is only temporary, and soon our characters depart in their own directions. As The Artist and The Philistine grow distant, The Mystic is left where it began, steadfast and strong in its convictions, but not without hints of doubt. The piece ends amicably but somberly, without conflict -– but also without resolve.

Program Note by Matthew Sadowski for the University of Georgia Hodgson Wind Ensemble concert program, 29 March 2016 


State Ratings

  • Florida: VI (The Florida Bandmasters Association denotes this as "significant literature.")
  • Maryland: VI
  • Minnesota: Category I
  • New York: VI
  • North Carolina: Masterworks (play all)
  • South Carolina: VI
  • Texas: V


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • National Concert Band of America (Alexandria, Va.) (Adrian Holton, conductor) - 5 March 2023
  • University of Nebraska Omaha Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Joshua Kearney, conductor) - 1 March 2023
  • San Jose (Calif.) Wind Symphony (Craig McKenzie, conductor) - 9 October 2022
  • The Ohio State University (Columbus) Wind Symphony (Dustin Ferguson, conductor) - 24 April 2022
  • University of Oklahoma (Norman) Wind Symphony (Andrey Cruz, conductor) - 3 April 2022
  • University of Cincinnati (Ohio) College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony (Adam Friedrich, conductor) - 25 March 2022
  • Nazareth College (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Symphony (Jared Chase, conductor) – 19 February 2022 (CBDNA 2022 Eastern Conference, Baltimore, Md.)
  • Missouri State University (Springfield) Wind Ensemble (John Zastoupil, conductor) - 3 October 2021
  • University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Wind Symphony (John R. Stewart, conductor) - 12 May 2021
  • Hope College (Holland, Mich.) Wind Ensemble (Gabe Southard, conductor) - 23 April 2021
  • Southern Utah University (Cedar City) Wind Symphony (Adam Lambert, conductor) - 6 April 2021
  • Eastman Wind Ensemble (Rochester, N.Y.) (Mark Davis Scatterday, conductor) - 31 March 2021
  • University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg) Wind Ensemble (Catherine Rand, conductor) - 17 November 2020
  • West Chester (Penn.) University Wind Ensemble (Andrew Yozviak, conductor) - 1 November 2020
  • Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.) Wind Symphony (Thomas Verrier, conductor) – 13 March 2020
  • Depaul University (Chicago, Ill.) Wind Ensemble (Erica Neidlinger, conductor) – 21 February 2020 (CBDNA 2020 North Central Division Conference, Chicago, Ill.)
  • Oklahoma State University (Stillwater) Wind Ensemble (Joseph Missal, conductor) – 18 February 2020
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.) Wind Ensemble (Frederick Harris, Jr., conductor) – 6 December 2019
  • Baylor University (Waco, Texas) Wind Ensemble (Eric Wilson, conductor) – 25 November 2019
  • Cleveland Winds (Cleveland, Ohio) (Joseph Parisi, conductor) – 17 November 2019
  • Metropolitan Wind Symphony (Lexington, Mass.) (Richard Wyman, conductor) – 27 October 2019
  • Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performing Arts Wind Ensemble (Stephen Squires, conductor) – 23 October 2019
  • Arts Academy Band [Interlochen, Mich.] (Frederick Fennell, conductor) - 2 March 1974

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Music


  • Blocker, L., Cramer, R., Corporon, E., Lautzenheiser, T., Lisk, E., & Miles, R. (1996). Teaching Music Through Performance in Band (Volume One). Chicago, IL: GIA Publications.
  • Cantrick, Robert. (1956, July). "Hammersmith and the Two Worlds of Gustav Holst.” Music and Letters 37, 211-220. Reprinted in (1977, Spring) Journal of Band Research 12(2), 3-11.
  • Fennell, Frederick. (1977, May). "Gustav Holst's Hammersmith." The Instrumentalist 31(10), 52-59. Reprinted in Conductors Anthology, Vol. II. Northfield, IL: The Instrumentalist, 1989, pp. 166-173, and in Basic Band Repertory Evanston, Ill.: The Instrumentalist, 1980, pp. 30-37, back cover.
  • Holst, Imogen. (1938). Gustav Holst: A Biography. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Holst, Imogen. (1984). The Music of Gustav Holst. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Lourens, Alan. Hammersmith. MBM Times, Issue 6 (2012), 67.
  • Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. (2010). Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 1. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 821-832.
  • Mitchell, Jon C. (1990). From Kneller Hall to Hammersmith: The Band Works of Gustav Holst. Tutzing: Verlegt bei Hans Schneider.
  • Mitchell, Jon C. (1986, Winter) "Gustav Holst: the Hammersmith sketches." CBDNA Journal 2(2), 8-17.
  • Mitchell, Jon C. (1980). “Gustav Holst: the works for military band.” Ed.D. dissertation. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois.
  • Mitchell, Jon C. (1984, Spring) "The premieres of Hammersmith." CBDNA Journal 1(1), 18-27.
  • Rapp, Willis M. (2005). The Wind Band Masterworks of Holst, Vaughan Williams, & Grainger. Galesville, Md.: Meredith Music.