Gustav Holst’s intergalactic masterpiece, The Planets has been a fixture in international orchestral repertoire since its 1920 debut. While it would be hard to imagine the world without the influential piece, this musical exploration of the solar system almost didn’t make it into orbit!
It took six years and numerous re-writes before it was performed in full by an orchestra. After all, the fade-out ending was something that had very rarely been attempted by composers.
Each movement takes its title from a planet, however Holst chose to use astrological signs as his inspiration, rather than astronomical planets, which explains Earth’s absence. Beginning with Mars, the Bringer of War and ending with Neptune, the Mystic, the distinct and memorable mood of each movement is intended to convey ideas and emotions associated with the influence of the planets on the psyche, not the Roman deities.
Mars, the Bringer of War
With its ferocious and violent nature, Mars makes extensive use of percussion and brass as it prepares for battle. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is… John Williams’ legendary Star Wars score borrowed a few notes from the opening bars.
Venus, the Bringer of Peace
Following the conclusion of the battle, Venus delivers beautifully eerie and relaxing tones with shimmering strings, harps, and flutes. An offer of serenity, Venus truly does bring peace to the orchestra.
Mercury, the Winged Messenger
Lively Mercury reflects the busy life of the airborne messenger with its high-pitched tunes hopping and skipping their way through the shortest movement of the piece.
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Impressive and majestic. An unquestionable celebration of life. This movement perfectly soundtracks what is known as ‘the party planet’.
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
Offering a stark contrast to Jupiter, Saturn’s opening is slow before expanding into chaos. Then there’s an unsettling change leading to what can only be described as a peaceful death.
Uranus, the Magician
Think big. After the combination of uneven tempos and powerful brass prepare to be left feeling uneasy before the sudden and abrupt transition to Neptune.
Neptune, the Mystic
Completing your astrological journey is the last and lonely planet, Neptune, with its calmness and mystery. Prepare for a sense of vastness, with a wordless chorus fading into the abyss.