The Planets is a suite of orchestral pieces by Gustav Holst, composed between 1914 and 1917. Each of the seven movements reflects the idea or character associated with a particular planet in the Solar System.
The first movement is Mars which represents the bringer of war and features a brutal triad theme with brass and percussion. The contrasting movement of Venus which is named after the goddess of peace, is very soft and serene.
Mars: Bringer of War
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is named for the Roman god of war. It is half the size of the Earth, orbiting the Sun at an average distance of 228 million kilometers.
The Martian climate is cold, with average temperatures ranging from -80 degrees Fahrenheit / -60 degrees Celsius to -195 degrees F / -125 degrees C near the poles. Violent dust storms are also common, which whip up clouds of dust that can obscure the Red Planet’s surface.
Scientists are particularly interested in finding evidence of water on Mars. They interpret the many channels, canyons and dry lakebeds found on its surface as evidence that it once had water in liquid form.
Venus: Bringer of Peace
Venus is a rocky planet that shares the same size and mass as Earth. It is one of the four planets in our solar system and is a close neighbour.
The planet has a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide that creates a greenhouse effect on the surface, which makes Venus a hostile environment for life as we know it. Despite this, scientists have detected signals that indicate possible water-based life.
There are also mysterious dark patches in the upper clouds of Venus’s atmosphere that absorb more than half of the planet’s solar energy. Scientists believe these could be chemicals or large colonies of microorganisms.
Mercury: The Winged Messenger
In ancient Roman mythology, Mercury was a god of communication who wore wings so he could be really fast when he needed to send messages between the gods. Holst takes the idea of this character and uses it to write some very fast music that jumps around between different instruments in the orchestra.
Mercury is the shortest and fastest movement in Holst’s planet suite. The rhythms of this movement are based on two simultaneous keys (B flat and E) that oppose each other in an unusual way.
Jupiter: Bringer of Happiness
Jupiter is the planet in the Solar System that symbolizes hedonism, generosity and good-nature. Its large size and bright appearance make it a source of joy for those who observe it.
The Planets, a seven-movement orchestral suite written by Gustav Holst, is named after each of the planets in the Solar System and their supposed astrological character. It was first performed on 29 September 1918.
Mars, the Bringer of War is a senseless & mechanised horror that is entirely inhuman. It is the last movement of The Planets, and was written before the outbreak of World War I.
Saturn: Bringer of Success
Saturn is a planet in the outer Solar System. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, and like all the other planets it’s primarily made of hydrogen and helium.
It has a dense metallic core and a thick atmosphere of gas and liquid. Hydrogen, helium and methane make up the outer layers of Saturn’s atmosphere.
At the upper end of the atmosphere, Saturn’s cloud deck is made of ammonia ice crystals. The temperature at this level is -279 deg F (-173 deg C).
Uranus: Bringer of Change
The astronomical planet Uranus is a powerful force of change, bringing new ideas and energy. When Uranus is in retrograde it can feel a bit chaotic and unpredictable, but if you can focus on the positives this planet can help you overcome obstacles.
The first movement in the Mars the Planet Suite, ‘Uranus: The Magician’, is an exciting piece of music that is full of quirks. It features unusual time signatures, scales and scalic movement which makes this piece an incredibly fast-paced and exciting one!
Neptune: Bringer of Dreams
The Mars movement of Gustav Holst’s Planet Suite is a powerful opening, evoking the ominous energy of a war march. Astrologers associate Mars with violence, anger and destruction, but it’s also about energy and action.
In this piece, Holst employs a variety of symphonic textures that are groundbreaking at the time and still influence musical trends today. He combines irregular meter, hemiolas and harmonic dissonances to convey feelings of trepidation and threat.
Neptune’s slow meter, beautiful shimmering harps and celesta and the mysterious fade-out of only-female voices in this final movement make for music that is both entrancing and otherworldly.
The Planets is a large-scale orchestral suite composed by Gustav Holst. It was one of the most popular works of its time, and is still a beloved piece today.
This seven-movement work depicts the Roman astrological characteristics of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The music was written in 1914-1916 and first performed in 1920.
Mars – The Bringer of War
Mars is the Roman god of war, and astrological associations with this red planet have been around for a long time. From Ray Bradbury’s 1950 collection of short stories to recent discoveries of possible water on Mars, the planet has long been a source of fascination.
The planet’s closest approach to Earth will take place this evening, and with it comes the excitement of the possibility that humans will one day visit Mars. But even though the red planet might be home to life, it will have its challenges – for example, Mars is covered with towering dormant volcanoes and craters. The air on Mars is 100 times thinner than on Earth, and there are plenty of dust storms to whip up clouds.
Despite its rocky surface, the planet also has an impressive history of science and engineering. The Red Planet has been used as a test bed for atomic energy, and there are even signs of life on Mars itself!
Holst wrote the first movement in his planet suite, The Planets, before World War I began in 1914. He had been inspired by ancient Martian astrological signs, and was able to draw on the physics of the planet to write a piece that has become synonymous with its name.
There are three musical ideas that drive the piece. The most notable is a brutally rhythmic figure of five beats relentlessly hammered out in a 5/4 rhythm. It is then followed by a principal theme in triads moving by chromatic steps without any true harmonic purpose and a second theme consisting of a tattoo on the tenor tuba answered by an embellishment of trumpets.
The planet suite is a programmatic composition and consists of 7 movements, with the Roman astrological characteristics of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune depicted. The first movement, Mars the bringer of war, is a masterpiece of military music and has been used for everything from ballets to rock concerts to Hollywood scores. It is a staple of the classical repertoire, and was recently transcribed by Ralph Sauer for 14-part Brass ensemble with timpani and percussion.
Venus – The Bringer of Love
The planet Venus is the goddess of love and beauty, and she is often portrayed in myths with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. She is a major figure in the Greek myth of Atalanta, Hippolytus, Myrrha and Pygmalion. Her fertility powers were also worshiped by Romans, especially on the island of Kythera.
The composer Gustav Holst was interested in astrology and decided to write an orchestral suite about the seven planets in our solar system (he didn’t include Earth, as it is astrologically inert and Pluto was not discovered till 1930). His piece musically painted each of these seven astronomical characters.
Mars, the Bringer of War opens the suite with a very aggressive rhythm in five beats per bar. The repetitiveness of the beats is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and it is this element that makes this movement so powerful.
After this aggressive opening, the music slows down to a calm lullaby and then moves forward again. The sound of horn and woodwinds ascend and descend throughout the piece, with a beautiful horn solo at the end.
While Mars is aggressive and violent, Venus is a peaceful goddess with a sweet disposition. This piece is a great example of how Holst uses the elements of a theme to create a movement with an emotional resonant tone.
Venus’s serene, rounded contours appear first on horn and then on cello. Then they meld into a symphonic procession that reaches an opulent peak. At this point, the melody returns to the horn and is then repeated as the orchestra begins to wind down. It is a truly beautiful and majestic piece of music, that is not only a great example of classical music but also a great depiction of the Venus goddess.
Saturn – The Bringer of Order
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and it’s a gas giant that doesn’t have a solid surface. It has 62 moons and weighs 95 times that of Earth. It spins once in a little over 10 hours.
It’s a fascinating planet to study, especially the rings it has, made up of ice, rocks and dust. It’s also known for its huge, powerful winds that blow across the planet. The wind creates vast, eerie cloud bands that are seen from space as light and dark stripes of clouds.
In The Planets, Holst has taken his astrological inspiration and used it to write a suite of seven movements that each represent the personality of one of the planets in our solar system. The resulting music is a series of clues that tell us about the impact these planets have on our psyche.
Movement four of the suite, Mars, was composed in 1914 shortly before World War I began and this is frequently regarded as Holst’s critique of war. This agitated allegro is filled with massive climaxes and horn and brass fanfares that give the movement its military aspects.
This piece has a great deal of power and strength to it, a lot of it coming from the repetitively stubborn and unsettling rhythms in five beats a bar that create a battle-building effect throughout the entire movement. It’s a fantastic example of how Holst can use contrasting timbres and textures in his orchestral compositions to create an intense soundscape.
In this movement, Holst uses harmonic ostinato and alternating chord changes between the flutes and harps to create a sense of the ticking of a clock. It is also used to give a sense of the slowness that comes with age, as we don’t move as fast.
Uranus – The Bringer of Change
Mars is the first movement in The Planets Suite and it’s the most well-known of the seven movements. It’s been imitated by countless musicians, including John Williams (who famously ripped off his riff on “Star Wars”) and heavy metal guitarists like Tony Iommi.
This ominous and angry piece represents the ancient Roman god of war. It was written during World War I and features aggressive rhythms reminiscent of machine guns and rumbling tanks, as well as lots of brass and percussion. It also has a unique 5/4 time signature which can be heard in the strings at the opening.
Holst was a genius when it comes to writing ostinato patterns, and the way he weaves them throughout the pieces of this suite is incredibly exciting. This is one of the reasons why this is such a popular piece of music.
Uranus – The Bringer of Change is another extremely interesting and intriguing movement within the suite. This is where Holst really stretches his creative muscles and uses many different instruments in order to create this fascinating build-up section.
The whole idea behind this is that the different instruments represent the different qualities of the planet. This is why the build up is such an exciting and unique sound to listen to.
It’s almost as if Holst wants to convey that each of the planets is special and different. That’s why he uses a variety of instruments and even a wordless female choir to bring out the emotion that these movements have.
This is also where you’ll hear some pretty bizarre cross-rhythms that are played 12 times. This is definitely the most unusual part of the whole suite and it makes this one of the most eerie movements in The Planets Suite.
Neptune – The Bringer of Mystery
When it comes to symphonic depictions of outer space, no one has ever done it quite like Gustav Holst. His seven-movement suite, first heard at London’s Queen’s Hall in 1918, is still a blockbuster in the orchestral repertoire 100 years later.
In the Planets, Holst paints astrological portraits of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in order of distance from the Sun. The music for Pluto is missing from the suite, since it was discovered in 1930 (well after The Planets was written).
Although Holst wanted the planets to be arranged according to their distance from the Sun, he had some artistic considerations that resulted in the arrangement we see today. The music for the planets in this suite suggests images that astronomers could identify, such as the fiery red appearance of Mars, and the serene, gentle brightness of Venus.
The Mars ’Bringer of War’ movement, for example, opens with a harsh, percussive rhythm in sharp 5/4 time. The overall tone is military, with aggressive machine guns and rumbling tanks in the rhythmic patterns.
However, the tempos in the music are not rigid, but instead are imbued with subtle elasticity to underline transitions and mood shifts. The balances are also well considered, with the brass striding atop the strings that often dominate early electrical recordings, and the bells in Saturn, the xylophone in Uranus and the distant celesta in Neptune all ethereal but not intrusive.
Neptune is my favorite piece of orchestral music- it sounds like the faraway depths of outer space and is truly magical! The celeste and swirling strings (the strings anticipate Ligeti’s later experiments) create a music mysterious and otherworldly. The female choir at the end is ethereal and haunting.