Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was of Swedish ancestry, the son of Theodor von Holst who taught the harp and the piano from his home in Cheltenham. Gustav began composing at an early age—although his father did not encourage this—and, after studying with Stanford at the Royal College of Music, he became a trombonist, touring with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. In 1905 he became music master at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, and in 1907 music director at Morley College. He held both these posts until his death. He was also a visiting lecturer in composition at Harvard University and was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society gold medal in 1930 and the Howland Memorial Prize from Yale University.
Holst’s contact with church music was not extensive and he was certainly not a church composer. His other interests included learning Sanskrit to know more of Hindu literature and philosophy and reading about the space-time continuum.
Written in 1916, Turn back O man is the second of Three Hymns for Chorus and Orchestra. The melody (The Old 124th Psalm) is taken from the Genevan Psalter. The ostinato in the bass is a simple but effective device which makes it unusual in the anthem repertoire.
from notes by William McVicker © 1992