The composer Gustav Holst is best known for his orchestral suite, The Planets. In fact many people are not aware that he wrote anything else. But while his output was not vast, there is much music, and some truly great works.

Savitri is a one-act chamber opera, a form that Holst made particularly his own. The forces called for are three soloists, a small female chorus and a Gustav Holst chamber orchestra, for a drama which lasts just half an hour.

The libretto is Holst's own translation of an incident from the Hindu Mahabharata. A woman's piety wins her a boon from Death, who has taken her woodcutter husband. Her love for her husband enables her to use the boon to bring him back to life.

The excerpt is from the part of the opera where Death grants her the boon.

She sings of the value she places on life, and what it means to her. In the background female voices accompany her with the orchestra, and at the climax the voice of Death praises her, and grants her request.

  Savitri: But Life is eternal,
Greater than thou.
Like bounteous rain, he showers his gifts on us,
Like an o'erwhelming wind he urges us on
Till time and space are forgot;
And joy and sorrow are one!

Death: Savitri, glorious woman!
Take the gift thou hast asked!
Life is thine in all its fullness;
Thine the song, the path of flow'rs.


  The performance is by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Imogen Holst, with Janet Baker as Savitri, Robert Tear as Satyavan and Thomas Hemsley as Death, with the Purcell Singers. It is on the London label, number 430 062-2.  

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