Holst was an innovative English composer, most famous for his symphonic work, The Planets. He was a modest and introverted character and spent the majority of his time as an educator as well as a composer, holding many teaching positions in various schools throughout his life. His earlier work was influenced largely by composers such as Purcell and Wagner; however during the early 1900s he began to develop his own unique and individual style of writing. Overall, Holst led quite a successful career as a composer, garnering acclaim particularly towards the end of his lifetime.
Gustav Holst was born into a musical family in Cheltenham – his father, Adolph von Holst, was an accomplished pianist and organist and his mother, born Clara Lediard was a piano student and talented singer. Clara often suffered from ill-health during her lifetime and she died in 1882, after the stillbirth of her third son. Gustav had one surviving brother, Emil, who enjoyed reasonable success as a Hollywood actor. His father remarried one of his students in 1885 and fathered a further two sons, however his new wife was more concerned with theosophy and religion than with her family and paid them little attention.
Holst was often unwell during his youth and although he was educated in piano, violin and trombone from an early age, it was considered unlikely that he would go on to have a career as a performer due to his health issues; he suffered from asthma and neuritis in his right arm. He did however, begin to study composition in his early teens and by 1891 he had already received several performances of his orchestral and vocal works. He studied counterpoint with George Frederick Sims for several months before receiving a post as organist and choirmaster at a local church in Cheltenham.