In July 2017, two Holst manuscripts were discovered in New Zealand. Folk Songs from Somerset and Two Songs Without Words were found in the town of Tauranga on the North Island. They were unearthed from the archives of the Bay of Plenty Symphonia when they were having a clear-out. Justus Rozemond, the BOP Symphonia’s music director described how he and the librarian Gloria Pheasant were “throwing away tons of old photocopies and found these handwritten 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.”
What do we know about these pieces? According to Imogen Holst’s 1974 Thematic Catalogue of Gustav Holst’s Music, Folk Songs From Somerset was first composed in 1906, but reworked in 1907, becoming A Somerset Rhapsody. She writes that the 1906 version of the manuscript “has not survived, but several pages were incorporated in the version of 1907.” According to Imogen the original 1906 version had seven additional tunes: Dicky of Taunton Dean, The sweet primroses, The trees they do grow high, The little turtle dove, Bruton Town, The sign of the bonny blue bell and Let bucks a-hunting go. The work is founded on folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset and is dedicated to Sharp. Holst conducted the first version on 3rd February 1906 at the same concert as the first performance of the Selection of Songs of the West in the Pump Room, Bath with the City of Bath Orchestra.
The other rediscovered manuscript is Two Songs Without Words, a work for small orchestra, again composed in 1906. Imogen Holst notes in her Thematic Catalogue that the manuscript’s whereabouts is “unknown”. However, unlike the other manuscript this one was published in 1907.
The mystery is how did the manuscripts end up in a cupboard in Tauranga? So far away from the address written by Holst on the front of Two Songs Without Words: 31 Grena Road, Richmond, Surrey. The Holst family lived in this house for four years and it was the birthplace of their daughter Imogen. However, at some point the manuscripts found their way across the other side of the world, whether it was during Holst’s own lifetime or after he died. There is a theory that the manuscripts were brought over by Stanley Farnsworth who conducted in the Bay of Plenty in the 1960s.
The Bay of Plenty Orchestra has said that they would like to perform the pieces in a concert in the near future. After this has happened it may well be that the manuscripts will make a return journey to England. Certainly it would fitting if the manuscripts made their way to Cheltenham.