Century-old original hand-written manuscripts have been discovered in the Bay of Plenty Symphonia’s library.

Two handwritten manuscripts by English composer Gustav Holst have been discovered in Tauranga on New Zealand’s North Island. The signed scores – a previous unpublished collection Folk Songs from Somerset and Two Songs without words, for which the original score was thought to have been lost – date back to 1906.

“Our librarian, Gloria Pheasant, and I were cleaning up the sheet music library a few years ago,” Bay of Plenty Symphonia’s Music Director Justus Rozemond said in an article on the community orchestra’s website. “We were throwing away tons of old photocopies and found these hand-written scores. We didn’t really believe we were holding genuine Holst manuscripts, but there was just enough of a tingle of excitement not to throw them away.”

Bay of Plenty SymphoniaBronya Dean, Gloria Pheasant and Justus Rozemond examine the score of Folk Songs from Somerset. Photo © Bay of Plenty Symphonia

Pheasant and Rozemond confirmed that the hand-writing looked similar to that of Holst and that the address written on the manuscripts was one at which the composer had lived. Still sceptical, however, they put the scores away in a drawer.

The authenticity of the documents was finally confirmed last month. “We contacted the Holst Archive in England and almost immediately received a reply excitedly saying that the signatures and handwriting were original and authentic,” said orchestra member Bronya Dean. “We were staggered. How did these manuscripts end up in a filing cabinet in our music library?”

Before the discovery of the manuscript, details of Folk Songs from Somerset were only known from the programme notes of the 1906 premiere by the City of Bath Pump Room Orchestra, which Holst conducted. “These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the Folk Songs from Somerset which don’t exist elsewhere in this form,” said the Holst Foundation’s Colin Matthews.

Holst, Bay of Plenty SymphoniaFolk Songs from Somerset. Photo © Bay of Plenty Symphonia

The story of how these scores wound up in New Zealand, some 20,000km away from where they were written, remains a mystery, but there is some evidence to suggest they may have made the voyage with English flautist Stanley Farnsworth, who conducted an earlier iteration of the orchestra in the 1960s.

“We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth, but unfortunately that’s as far as the trail goes,” Dean said. “We have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst. It would be great to think that someone who hears this news might know more, and be able to help us complete the puzzle.”

The scores are an exciting find for New Zealand orchestra, who will now have to decide what to do with them. “We know they are special, but we also appreciate that their proper home is probably back in the UK where they will be more accessible to Holst researchers,” said Rozemond. “Regardless of what happens, BOP Symphonia will perform the music here in Tauranga. In the case of Folk Songs from Somerset, this may be for the first time in over one hundred years. It will be an exciting moment.”


Sign up to the Limelight newsletter