Gustav Holst and the Human Organ

Mr R.A.F. Mears and his "Magician" and his "Human Organ" played by the boys of Warwick School. It was part of a performance of Gustav Holst's choral ballet " The Golden Goose" to raise money for St Nicholas Church. See Warwick Advertiser- 6th July 1929.
IMAGE LOCATION: (Warwickshire County Record Office)
Reference: PH, 352/187/233, img: 3203

A human organ is not your everyday image to pop out when browsing, so naturally it caught my attention. Maybe a little bit of background is helpful, however!

Holst’s Golden Goose is a choral ballet, tapping into revivalism of Elizabethan entertainment forms, hence the use of mime, and other nods to traditional formats. This is all a celebration of Englishness, a re-affirmation of national culture after the Great War, and in that case, what better scene for the performance than Warwick Castle! Holst was big on tradition, having revived Purcell’s Fairy Queen, and given its first performance of modern times.

A quirky local identity

And the postcard is arresting, isn’t it. It’s one of many unusual and eccentric images on Our Warwickshire that show how a certain quirky Britishness was, and still is, alive in the area. Of course, it also shows the need to grab attention and therefore encourage people to come and watch, and contribute to the fund to restore St Nicholas Church! The ‘choral ballet’ is based on a Grimm fairy tale so captures that otherworldly atmosphere (as the picture shows!), but is strangely familiar, bringing to mind maybe forms more well-known nowadays such as pantomime.

Holst visited the area

What’s of particular note is that Holst himself visited to watch the dress rehearsal, and made a few suggestions afterwards. It’s not often you get a chance to have feedback (and praise) from the composer himself! He also autographed a number of programmes, which were set to be auctioned to help raise money for the restoration of St Nicholas Church, the point of this performance. Holst is a big deal in British classical music, his presence gives authority to a local production. It shows how seemingly local concerns can have more impact than you’d think.

So, we have here a snapshot of culture, lighthearted yet serious – playful. As a historic snapshot it captures the moment, I feel. If anybody owns any arresting historical images we’d love to see them and, even better if you can supply the back story.

More from Warwick
More from Music