Take a musical tour of the Solar System with composer Gustav Holst. Listen to seven movements based on astrological interpretations of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Composed between 1914 and 1916, The Planets was Holst’s first large-scale work. It was premièred in London in 1918.
When Holst began composing his Planets suite in 1914, he had no programme and was merely inspired by the astrological character of each planet. His daughter wrote that once the underlying idea had been formulated, he let the music have its way with him.
The first movement of the suite, Mars, is a critique of war, which is why it is often seen as the opening movement of the entire work. It has an aggressive, wild nature and is characterized by its insistent (ostinato) 5/4 rhythm.
Its military aspects are also highlighted with horns and brass fanfares, and huge climaxes are produced as the scene violently depicts battles and rage. The D flat and C tonalities are sometimes combined for an edgy polytonality.
Throughout the movement, Holst demonstrates his mastery of orchestration with many different timbres and contrasting musical ideas. For example, the flutes and harps play an ostinato theme that oscillates between two half-diminished seventh chords: Bdim7 and Adim7.
Next, the bassoons introduce a frolicking tune that is almost a drinking song. It is then followed by a military march that has been introduced first by the tuba.
Finally, the percussions and woodwinds blend into a mystical choir, which gives the music an other-worldly quality. It is an extremely beautiful and moving movement that was Holst’s personal favorite.
Jupiter is the planet that governs the earth and heaven, a god of commerce and messenger of the gods. It is an enchanting and powerful piece that represents this great planet in the Solar System.
As the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter is known for its expansiveness and abundance. He is a powerful and generous benefactor.
He is a symbol of wealth, prosperity and happiness. He is also a guardian of the sun and the earth.
His name means “the giver of joy” in Greek and he is a symbol of the sun. This is why he is often referred to as the “Sun of the Universe.”
Saturn is the planet of time, and is represented by a ring of ice and dust. Flutes and harps evoke this theme, and it is often referred to as a ticking clock.
The planet Jupiter was named after the Roman god of sky and thunder, and it is now considered one of the most powerful and beautiful of all our Solar System’s planets. It is a gas giant, and its surface is made of hydrogen and helium gases. Its rotation speed is faster than any other planet in the Solar System, and its atmosphere is colorful, containing orange and brown bands mixed with white streaks.
The giant planet has the largest internal heat source of any solar system planet, causing it to radiate energy from the interior. Its atmosphere also is very active, generating radio waves at high frequencies that sometimes can exceed the energy output of the Sun.
If you could look deep inside Jupiter, you would see that it is almost all hydrogen, a gas. Under the intense pressure of the inner core, the hydrogen turns into liquid and then into a metal.
As a result, the inner core of Jupiter is only about the size of Earth. The planet’s outer layers are made of a mixture of ice and rock, but the core is essentially empty.
Jupiter’s atmosphere is very similar to that of the Moon, and its clouds are separated into alternating dark and bright bands. This pattern has been stable for a long time, and changes in it are caused by currents of air that travel along the equator.
Interestingly, although Jupiter’s orbit is very close to the Sun, it still takes over 12 Earth years to complete an orbit around the star. This is because of the way its magnetic field surrounds the planet.
This giant planet is the second most massive in our solar system, and it has a large system of rings and 92 known moons. Four of these were discovered by Galileo, including the giant moons Io, Europa and Ganymede.
Io, the closest of Jupiter’s moons to the Sun, is covered with volcanoes and molten sulfur lakes. It has an iron core at least 1800 km across and a silicate shell. Some scientists think that Io might have a sea of saltwater beneath its ice, and there are suggestions that life may exist in the water.
Uranus is a giant planet in the outer Solar System, and is often called an ice planet because its bulk composition contains water, ammonia and methane. Most of its mass (80%) is made up of these materials, and most of it is in a thin layer above a core that is made of rock.
Like the rest of the Solar System, Uranus formed when swirling gas and dust collided 4.5 billion years ago. It is one of two ice giants in the outer solar system (the other being Neptune), and it’s considered to be one of the most ancient planets in the Solar System.
Its unusual sideways position has long been thought to be a result of a collision with another planet-sized body, and this is one of the reasons why it is known as an “ice giant.” It is also why it has such a distinctive ring system around it.
The planet’s rings are made of dark grey material and encircle it in a circle, much like Saturn’s E ring. There are nine rings in total, named Zeta, Alpha, Beta, Eta, Gamma, Delta, Lambda, Nu and Mu.
Although Uranus is the smallest of the four planets, it still has an impressive amount of mass. It is the fourth largest planet in terms of both its radius and its mass, and it has the third-largest planetary diameter.
This is because the rocky core of the planet is extremely dense, so it can heat up to a very high temperature, about 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit (4,982 degrees Celsius). It has an incredibly large crater called The Great Red Spot that is a remnant of this impact.
The most famous part of Uranus is the ring system, which is composed of nine bands that are named Zeta, Alpha, Beta, Epsilon, Eta, Delta, Gamma, Lambda and Nu. Each ring has its own unique color and is made of different types of material, but they all have the same structure and shape.
There are many interesting themes within the ring system that Holst has used in his composition. This is particularly the case in the opening bars of this movement, where he uses contrary motion scales between the upper winds and tuned percussion to create a contrasting sound. This is a very exciting way to start off the piece, and it really sets the mood for the rest of the movement.
When Holst began to write this seven-movement suite in 1914, he had no programme; it was simply a start. He took his cue from astrology and the character of each planet.
The planets he chose were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. Although he did not believe in astrology, Holst was fascinated by the idea that all of the stars and planets in the universe were related to humans, and that their movement in space could have an impact on their behaviour and emotions.
In private parties, Holst was known to give “astrological readings” and cast horoscopes for friends. He was also interested in the esoteric and occult side of astrology, which he had recently rediscovered thanks to Clifford Bax.
As a result, Holst was able to discover that astrology was not only about the future but also about the past and present. He discovered that a lot of the meanings of the planets were associated with human emotions, and that this made it possible for him to write music which was more personal than classical.
For example, he was able to write a song about Mars called the Bringer of War. He was able to make it sound very realistic, and with the right musicians it could actually be performed!
Another of Holst’s themes was about fairy tales. He used this as the inspiration for the first movement, which was inspired by Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The movement is very fast paced, with the different instruments blending together to create a fairy theme!
He also uses cross-rhythms which consist of 6/8-3/4-2/4 changes, creating a very exciting sound. This is one of the more interesting movements in The Planets as it is a bit difficult to interpret and really gives the listener a sense of the different characteristics of each of the planets!
For his final movement, Holst took a more relaxed approach. This is probably because he had become quite disillusioned with his career, and wanted to take a break from the pressures of the musical world. He also wanted to give it a more spiritually uplifting feel, which is why he had the choir of women sing some vocalizations a capella in the last movement! This was a first in classical music and is what gave this movement its great popularity.