Gustav Holst | Compositions, The Music of Holst

(1909-10) Beni Mora Op. 29 No.1

- First Dance- Second Dance- Finale: In the street of Ouled Naïls

In 1908 Holst was informed that the opera Sita (1899-1906) was awarded a third prize in the Ricordi Competition, thus not winning a cash prize nor guaranteed a performance. Sita had taken up all of Holst's spare time in those six years, and now without extra revenue, he was doubting his credibility as a composer. His friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams gave him some money and reinforced his doctors opinion that he needed to go on vacation to a warm place to help his neuritis and his nerves

On Good Friday that same year, Holst arrived in Algeria. In the letters that he wrote to his wife, he called Algeria a mix of East and West, a place where one moment he saw an Arab woman leaving a mosque and another moment he saw an advertisement for American Cinematography. One day, Holst got bored and decided to bike across the Algerian Sahara desert. Talk about a vacation!

When he returned to England, he started composing with fresh new ideas. He started work on the opera Savitri, and in 1909, he wrote the first movement of Beni Mora, then entitled Oriental Suite. Probably realizing that the piece was too short to be considered a significant dance, he wrote two more movements in 1910 and named the suite Beni Mora, a name taken from a setting in Robert Hitchen's novel, "The Garden of Allah."

It was premiered in London in 1912, to the distaste of one critic who exclaimed, "We didn't ask for Biskra girls." Vaughan Williams later wrote that if the piece had been played in Paris instead of London, Holst would have gained fame a good ten years before The Planets made him a household name.

One of the more remarkable musical points about the piece is the third movement, which is based on a motif played by bamboo flutist that Holst heard on the streets. The flutist played the same four notes for hours. This is easily apparent in the movement, yet the motif does not become tiring to the ear because of the mastery of Holst's harmonic texture. Beni Mora is regarded as Holst's first mature orchestral piece.