Gustav Holst | Compositions, The Music of Holst

(1909-10) The Cloud Messenger Op. 30

This piece is published by Stainer.

This piece is the largest of the "Indian" works Holst composed between 1895 and 1914. It is based on the "Meghaduta," an epic poem by Kalidasa, the Indian poet. Holst once said that the translation of this poem took him seven years to complete, "seven happy years, of course." Holst didn't complete this translation alone though. There was a similar translation used by R. W. Frazier in his book, "Silent Gods and Sun Steeped Lands," of which Holst owned a copy.

The Cloud Messenger is about an exiled poet from Central India who sends a cloud toward the Himalaya Mountains to relay a message of love to his wife, who is lonely. There are great moments of dance laced throughout the piece, which serve to symbolize the cloud listening in on the dances in the temples of the holy city. In the end, the cloud delivers its message by speaking softly into the sleeping ear of the poet's wife.

The piece was first performed on 4 March 1913, with Holst conducting the London Choral Society and the New Symphony Orchestra. It received mixed reviews from the public. Vaughan Williams thought the piece was "beautiful," yet Holst's daughter, Imogen, does not speak highly of the piece. Holst himself thought it was the best piece he had written at the time and was extremely disappointed with it's failure. He fell into a deep depression after its premiere and was surprised when he received a gift from an anonymous person which enabled him to go on a vacation in Mallorica, with his friends, Clifford and Arnold Bax.

Holst's friend, W.G. Whittaker noted that the piece is "charming" though "naive" while composer Edmund Rubbra wrote that it was "curiously lacking in the pointed significance of the earlier hymns : it sprawls rather formlessly..."