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About The Planets, Op. 32

Learn about The Planets, Op. 32 by Gustav Holst

The Planets: Overview

The Planets, Op. 32 was composed but Gustav Holst, the English composer, born in 1874 in the UK. The Planets is best known for his orchestral composition. Even though he composed other pieces such as Sita, an opera, Beni Mora, and Cloud Messenger, nothing elevated him to the level of artistic greatness as The Planets did.

A few years along, in 1913, Gustav travelled to Spain. There, he acquainted himself with Clifford Bax, an astrologer, who profoundly influenced the composer’s interest in Astrology. Holst’s composition of The Planets was influenced by a number of performances in England by eminent composers. These included those of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. The impression on Holst’s work is evident as he initially named The Planets as Seven Orchestral Pieces, based on Schoenberg’s “Five orchestral Pieces Op. 18”. Similarly, it is noticeable that Stravinsky’s uncanny orchestral performance influenced Mars, the starting movement of The Planets

The first performance of The Planets happened privately in 1918 while the first official performance was conducted in 1920, under Albert Coates in Queen's Hall.

The following elaborates on the individual movements of The Planets

MARS

Identified as the bringer of war, violent rhythmic beats, a triad theme and an accompaniment of trumpets symbolize Mars. Courage or great heroics are non-existent in its music, which demonstrates the inhumanity of conflict, where Mars is unfeeling of life or death. 

Mars uses these instruments: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, bass oboe, 3 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 6 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tenor tuba in B flat, bass tuba, 6 timpani (2 players), side drum, cymbals, bass drum, gong, harps, organ, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

VENUS

Symbolized as peace, Venus begins with the ascending note of a horn followed by tunes of flutes and oboes. The music is characteristically high and also includes the harp and celesta in its ranks. To further create a peaceful feeling, the solo violin’s soft and touching melody touches a cord, and makes the movement a beautiful study in contradiction to the previous one. 

Venus uses these instruments: 4 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 6 horns in F, glockenspiel, celesta, harps, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

MERCURY

Also known as the Messenger in Roman Mythology, Mercury is a rather short movement in The Planets. The piece is a celebration of rhythms playing in conjunction (B flat and E) and opposing each other. This is a marked signature of Holst’s work. 

Mercury uses these instruments: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, bass oboe, 2 clarinets in A, 1 clarinet in B flat, bass clarinet in Bb, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, timpani, glockenspiel, celesta, 2 harps, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

JUPITER

This piece is full of merrymaking and fun. As the personification of celebration, Jupiter has a multitude of musical rhythms and categories. The music also reminds keen listeners about English folk music’s influence over Gustav Holst’s work. This speaks to us about a crowd of happy people, jollying about and in high spirits. 

Jupiter uses these instruments: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinet in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 6 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone in B flat, bass tuba, 6 timpani (2 players), triangle, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, glockenspiel, 2 harps, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

SATURN

This planet is associated with old age and as a result, the music is starkly of a different pattern than the other movements. A tremendous vacuum is felt in the opening sequences, thanks to the tone of the opening music and the bass in the background. These inspire a sense of loss and depression followed by a trombone music in B-minor, which reconcile the mood to one of resignation and faith.

Saturn uses these instruments: 3 flutes, bass flute in G, 2 oboes, English horn, bass oboe, 3 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 6 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba, 6 timpani (2 players), bells, harps, organ pedal, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

URANUS

The music of Uranus, the magician, is characterized by a flamboyant and energetic tune to keep in sync with the magician’s tricks and astonishing acts. The encore is typical of an eerie climax to the magician’s performance, and the music gives the impression that he vanishes in a sudden burst of fire.

Uranus uses these instruments: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, bass oboe, 3 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 6 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tenor tuba in B flat, bass tuba, 6 timpani (2 players), Xylophone, 2 harps, organ, violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

NEPTUNE

Neptune is a typical mystic in terms of its non-corporeal identity. This is projected further through the accompanied music, which speaks of disembodiment. The absence of any theme, fragmentation of tunes into almost imperceptible levels are followed by a chorus in high G that ultimately diminishes into nothingness.

Neptune uses these instruments & voices: piccolo, 2 flutes, bass flute, 2 oboes, English horn, bass oboe, 3 clarinets in A, bass clarinet in B flat, 3 bassoons, double bassoon, 4 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, 3 timpani (1 player), celesta, harps, organ pedal, female chorus (total of 6 parts), violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

For those of you who don't know what celesta and glockenspiel are, please take a look at these pictures below:

Musical instrument: Celesta

Celesta

 

 

Musical instrument: Glockenspiel

Glockenspiel 

 

If you would like to learn more about Gustav Holst who composed The Planets, Op. 32 clear visit our "About Gustav Holst" page.  

 

Reference Links:

Piano sheet music of pieces from The Planets by Holst in multi levels available at Galaxy Music Notes: