Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Gustav Holst - The Planets

Gustav Holst
1874 - 1934
Gustav Holst is undoubtedly most famous for his suite 'The Planets' written between 1914 and 1916. The work is made up of seven movements that represent each of the planets of the solar system (with the exception of Earth). As well as this, Holst chose to center the tone of each of the movements around the astrological character of each planet. The work is scored for an absolutely huge orchestra, containing the usual suspects such as strings, wind, percussion and brass with the few additions of less typical instruments such as the piccolo, celesta and tubular bells. Holst even included a small women's chorus in Venus.

Just as the movements are written to suit the astrological characteristics of each of the planets, Holst named them accordingly: Mars the Bringer of War, Venus the Bringer of Peace, Mercury the Winged Messenger, Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity, Saturn the Bringer of Old Age, Uranus the Magician and Neptune the Mystic. Although Pluto was discovered four years before Holst died, he chose not to write an additional movement as he resented the fact that the suite's popularity took away attention from the rest of his works. Despite the fact the suite portrays Holst's musical style throughout, some are extremely varied, and show Holst to be a true chameleon of composition. 

My favourite movement is Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity. Out of all seven movements, this one definitely has the most captive opening with virtuosic strings overlapped with the nobility of the brass. This wonderful flurry of sound is then joined by the rest of the orchestra, and the moments of suspense created by held 'stinger' chords in the strings are accompanied by the brilliance of horn and trumpet solo lines which develop into the first theme of the movement. Some of my favourite moments are the contrasted sections between the sound of the brass against the sweet and innocent sound of percussion and wind when they take over the melody. 

Out of all the intricate details in Jupiter, the movement is most famous for its theme halfway through, that was eventually adapted into the hymn 'I Vow to Thee My Country', and - as this is one of the most well-known hymns in the country, Jupiter has from then on been associated with patriotism. To honour this, it was chosen to be played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra as the finale for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Boat Pageant a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately because of the awful weather, the event was called off early, and it was never played. 
Outraged by this, I felt it was my duty to post it for all to here. This recording however, is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 


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