Imogen Holst

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

Imogen Holst – ( Imogen Clare Holst by Milein Cosman
etching, 1981 Archive Collection


William Glock provides a powerful illustration of Imogen Holst’s gift for teaching. This is particularly moving for me, as it was written by the wonderful pianist, Joyce Rathbone, who was a huge influence on my in my late teens:

 ….Imogen Holst’s lecture on rhythm, of which a friend, Joyce Rathbone, has written that it ‘touched on profundities in a form of such simplicity that cause and effect seem unrelated.’ One of her most cherished memories, she adds, is ‘the picture of Nadia Boulanger and Hindemith sitting side by side in the front row of this lecture, each holding an improvised percussion instrument consisting of a handkerchief filled with coins, with which they performed in response to Imogen’s instructions, gazing up at her with the concentrated attention of two young children.’

 I will never foget Rathbone and the cellist, Joan Dickson, premiering Priaulx Rainier’s Grand Duo at the Wigmore Hall. Rainier came on stage, to take her applause in a fisherman’s smock.

Imogen Holst was a composer of some finesse. However, she is best known for help for other musicians, as coach, teacher, and musical assistant. David Matthews tells the story of her involvement in the creation of Benjamin Britten’s ‘coronation’ opera:

 ‘In her diary, [begun in September 1952] Imogen Holst gives a detailed account of the compositional processes of Gloriana – Britten scoring so fast in the later stages that she could scarcely keep up with him. She also records many things he said, and occasionally reveals her own feelings – for she was clearly in love with him at this time.

Gloriana  had begun with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. In July 1952 Benjamin Britten and William Plomer visited the Gallery to purchase postcards of his main characters.

Milein Cosman was married to the philosopher, music critic and sports correspondent, Hans Keller. Keller was the dedicatee of Benjamin Britten’s 3rd Quartet, and wrote a definitive appreciation of Haydn’s quartets.


 Imogen Holst: A life in Music,Christopher Grogan,  Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2010,  P201

Notes in Advance, William Glock, OUP, Oxford, 1991, P54

 Britten, David Matthews, Life and Times/Haus Publication, London, 2003, P.107