The poetry of Humbert Wolfe (1885–1940) has today virtually disappeared, even from the anthologies. In the 1920s his work, meticulous in its craftsmanship and in its sensibility, was well known and Holst became a great admirer and friend after reading the collection published in 1927 as Requiem.
In 1929, on his return from a much-needed winter holiday in Italy, Holst set twelve of Wolfe’s poems for high voice and piano. Apart from the Four Songs for voice and violin (composed in 1917) they were the first solo songs he had written for more than twenty years, and they reveal a lyricism and warmth often absent from his music. At their first performance in Paris they were grouped together under the title of The Dream-City. But they were not intended to form a cycle, and were published by Augener (after three other publishers had rejected them) as individual songs.
My intention in orchestrating ten of the songs was specifically to create an orchestral song-cycle, and so I have in a few places composed linking material. This is most in evidence in the third part of the work where the three songs play without a break. I have joined the first song (which is slightly expanded) to the second, and the third to the fourth. But in the second part, the work’s centre of gravity, the three poems remain separate.
The music is scored more elaborately, perhaps, than Holst might have allowed himself. But, bearing in mind the pianistic nature of the original, I hope that the result is as close to the spirit of the music as a conscious attempt to recreate Holst’s own orchestral idiom would be.
Published by Novello.