Fugal Overture, A (tr Ponto)

From Wind Repertory Project
Gustav Holst

Gustav Holst (trans. Robert Ponto)

General Info

Year: 1922
Duration: c. 6:10
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Denis Wick Publishing
Cost: Score and Parts – Free. For availability, see Discussion tab, above.


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Contra Alto Clarinet (optional)
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II (I doubles Soprano Saxophone)
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Glockenspiel
  • Sleigh Bells
  • Xylophone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Gustav Holst began composition of A Fugal Overture in 1922, completing the full score in January 1923. Despite its name, the overture is not strictly fugal. It belongs to the era of neo-classicism, but apparently by coincidence, for Holst had not yet heard some of the Stravinsky and Hindemith works which set this fashion. The “fugal” subject is full of spiky cross-rhythms – Holst grouped the eighth notes of his 4/4 into a pattern of 3 + 3 + 2, thus giving a bar of three unequal beats, creating an intense and exciting work.

- Program Note from Noble Music Publications

Gustav Holst completed A Fugal Overture in the summer of 1922. Although not thematically related, it was often employed as an overture to his comic opera, The Perfect Fool. While the overture contains all of the requisite energy and panache of a good orchestral “opener,” it is also an insightful glimpse into Holst’s contrapuntal abilities. While at work on the composition, Holst wrote to one of his students:

As soon as I got to work after my visit I unexpectedly wrote a thing that was meant for an overture and even now is in strict sonata form: but it happens to be a Fugue! Also it is a Dance! At present I am calling it Bally Fugue, although perhaps Fugal Ballet would be more correct.

Such words are typical of Holst’s characteristic humility. He seems to imply that, somehow, the “thing” just “happened” to be fugue — as though he just incubated the themes under a warm lamp until they hatched into full contrapuntal adulthood! Indeed. Biographer Michael Short remarks about the work:

Although fugal techniques are used in the work, the texture is not as academic as the title might imply, the mood being one of vitality and gaiety, made all the more so by the inclusion of a brief poignant interlude of bleakness which gives a foretaste of Egdon Heath. The rhythmic liveliness of the Overture stems mainly from the division of the four-beat bar into irregular groupings instead of the more usual patterns, producing syncopations and cross-rhythms which have an almost joyous effect.

To be sure, the infectiously optimistic and rousing energy of the overture deflects one’s attention from the composer’s clever and crafty skills, particularly with regard to rhythm. Although the work is cast entirely in four crotchets per bar, the ear perceives it quite differently. The opening material for example clearly implies a 3-plus-3-plus-2 metric scheme, lending the first theme/subject (bar 4) a delightful rhythmic vitality. The second theme/subject (bar 34) is even less inhibited by its governing meter. The discerning listener will detect a sequence of changing meters, the beginning of which could easily be re-barred as: 5/8, 5/8, 2/4, 2/4, 3/4, and so forth.

Any music student who has endured the stress and strain of counterpoint studies — and the inherent difficulties of getting things sorted out both vertically and horizontally — can appreciate the extra impediments Holst has created for himself by making his fugue subject effectively multi-metric. Fashioning pleasing music in spite of so many constraints is not for the compositionally faint of heart!

It is perhaps a characteristic of fine music that it can be apprehended and enjoyed at multiple levels. In the case of A Fugal Overture, Mr. Holst has left us a delightful miniature, appealing in its visceral energy and splendid in its craft.

- Program Note by Robert Ponto


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Central Michigan University (Mount Pleasant) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Chris Chapman, conductor) – 29 October 2019

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Music


  • Robert Ponto, personal correspondence, November 2019