The planets

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The planets ( English original title: The Planets or The Planets Suite ) is the title of an orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst . The work bears the opus number 32. Holst composed this piece between 1914 and 1916 for a large symphony orchestra ; in the last movement , Neptune , a six-part female choir is also used. It is late romantic program music , the character of which later exerted a great influence on the film music and whose direct effect on the listener is mainly due to the monumental sound effects and the richness of the orchestra's timbres.

While The Planets are performed frequently in the Anglosphere and especially in Great Britain , the piece is rarely heard in the concert hall in German-speaking countries.

The sentences

In the original, the planets consist of seven sentences; each sentence bears the name of a planet in our solar system or the Roman deity after whom the planet is named. The earth was not taken into account.

German title English title Tempo markings Audio
Mars , the warbringer Mars, the Bringer of War Allegro
Venus , the Bringer of Peace Venus, the Bringer of Peace Adagio - Andante - Animato - Tempo I.
Mercury , the winged messenger Mercury, the Winged Messenger Vivace
Jupiter , the bringer of happiness Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity Allegro giocoso - Andante maestoso - Tempo I - Lento maestoso - Presto
Saturn , the bringer of old age Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age Adagio - Andante
Uranus the magician Uranus, the Magician Allegro - Lento - Allegro - Largo
Neptune , the mystic Neptune, the Mystic Andante - Allegretto

The playing time is between 50 and 60 minutes. Essentially, the order of the sets corresponds to the sequence of planets in the solar system, only that Mars and Mercury are reversed.

The suite was first heard on September 29, 1918 in a private performance in the Queen's Hall in London ; the conductor was Adrian Boult . The public premiere of the entire work - previously only parts were performed - took place under the conductor Appleby Matthews on October 10, 1920 in Birmingham . On May 11, 2000 the work was performed together with the piece "Pluto - The Renewer" composed by Colin Matthews.

Thematic background

The concept of the work is not astronomical but astrological - cosmological . It is inspired by the ancient concept of the seven planetary gods and their reception in modern astrology . Therefore there are no sentences about the sun and moon, which were counted among the seven ancient planetary gods. The planets Uranus and Neptune , which were not yet discovered in antiquity and the Renaissance, are taken into account, since they are among the seven relevant planets in the cosmological system relevant for modern astrology . Clifford Bax gave Holst an introduction to astrology and ultimately inspired him to do this work. Each sentence should address thoughts, feelings, properties that are associated with the corresponding Roman deity. Another starting point was the book “Was ist ein Horoskop” by Alan Leo , from which Holst took, among other things, the inspiration for the subtitles of the individual sentences (“The Bringer of…” etc.).

The planets were initially created in a version for two pianos , with the exception of Neptune , which was composed for a single organ , since Holst found the sound of the piano too hard and direct for such a mysterious, distant world as Neptune. However, he also orchestrated the suite for a large orchestra including organ, accompanied by a women's choir in the last movement (without a word). The concert audience was already enthusiastic about the piece at the premiere. Although The Planets are Holst's best-known work to this day, the composer himself did not count them among his most successful works and later expressed his disappointment that all his other works were completely eclipsed by the success of the planets . Nevertheless, he conducted a recording himself in the early 1920s. His personal favorite was the phrase Saturn .

The order of the sentences corresponds to that of the planets in the solar system - with the exception of Mars and Mercury. Mercury's orbit is actually closer to the Sun than Mars and Venus. The order of the sentences, on the other hand, corresponds to the distance between the planets and the earth, with Mars being about 2 million kilometers further away than Venus. Therefore, some musicologists advocate the theory that Mars was placed at the beginning for musical reasons in order to bring the first four movements into the familiar musical form of a Sinfonietta . Another attempt to explain it is that Holst wanted to take account of the widespread misconception that Mars is actually closer to Earth than Venus.

An alternative explanation can be derived from the astrological concept of the dominance of certain signs of the zodiac by the planets. If you list these together with the planets assigned to them in the traditional order, starting with Aries , and omit Pluto , which was not yet discovered at the time of the composition , the exact order of the sentences in the suite results.

Occupation of the individual movements

sentence occupation
I. Mars 2 Piccolo , 2 gr. Flutes , 2 oboe , 1 English horn , 1 bass oboe , 3 clarinets (B), 1 bass clarinet (B), 3 Fagotte , 1 Kontrafagott

6 horns (F), 4 trumpets (C), 2 trombones , 1 bass trombone , 1 euphonium (Bb), 1 bass tuba

Timpani (2 players), percussion ( small drum , cymbal , large drum , tam-tam )


2 harps


II. Venus 4 large flutes, 3 oboes, 1 English horn, 3 clarinets (B-flat), 1 bass clarinet (B-flat), 3 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon

6 horns (F)

Striking mechanism ( carillon )


2 harps


III. Mercury 2 piccolos, 2 large flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 1 bass oboe, 3 clarinets (2xA, 1xB), 1 bass clarinet (Bb), 3 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon

4 horns (F), 2 trumpets (C)

Timpani (1 player), percussion (glockenspiel)


2 harps


IV. Jupiter 2 piccolos, 2 large flutes, 3 oboes, 1 English horn, 3 clarinets (B-flat), 1 bass clarinet (B-flat), 3 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon

6 horns (F), 4 trumpets (C), 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 euphonium (Bb), 1 bass tuba

Timpani (2 players), percussion ( triangle , tambourine , cymbals, large drum, glockenspiel)

2 harps


V. Saturn 3 large flutes, 1 bass flute (G), 2 oboes, 1 English horn , 1 bass oboe, 3 clarinets (B-flat), 1 bass clarinet (B-flat), 3 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon

6 horns (F), 4 trumpets (C), 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 bass tuba

Timpani (2 players), percussion ( tubular bells )

2 harps

Organ (pedals)


VI. Uranus 2 piccolos, 2 large flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 1 bass oboe, 3 clarinets (B-flat), 1 bass clarinet (B-flat), 3 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon

6 horns (F), 4 trumpets (C), 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 euphonium (Bb), 1 bass tuba

Timpani (2 players), percussion ( xylophone , cymbals, tambourine, small drum, large drum, tam-tam)


2 harps


VII. Neptune 1 piccolo, 2 large flutes, 1 bass flute (G), 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 1 bass oboe, 3 clarinets (A), 1 bass clarinet (B), 3 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon

4 horns (F), 4 trumpets (C), 3 trombones

Timpani (1 player), percussion ( hanging cymbals , large drum, tam-tam)

Organ (pedals)


2 harps

6-part women's or children's choir (2 × 3 voices)


Biographical embedding

At that time Holst was a music teacher at the girls' school St Paul's School for Girls in Brook Green (Hammersmith), a job he pursued with great commitment. After a new grand piano had been added to the school building, which was given a soundproof music room, he used it intensively for composing on weekends and during the holidays.

In 1913 Holst got through contacts with the English manager of the Ballets Russes the opportunity to attend a rehearsal of the Sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky in the Aldwych Theater . It is believed that Holst attended performances of Stravinsky's Firebird in London in 1912, staged by Dyagilev's Ballets Russes. In addition, he probably heard a new work by Arnold Schönberg called Five Orchestral Pieces , which was greeted with laughter at its premiere under Sir Henry Wood . Holst characterized the new style with the words "That sounds like Wagner, only without melodies" . In January 1914, Schönberg himself conducted a performance. This time the audience was more agreeable. The premiere conductor Wood, who conducted the second half of the concert, got the bigger applause.

Holst's first reaction to Schönberg, which was not entirely serious, was a piece entitled Futuristic Tongepicht in B for the students of Morley College . The ironically intended piece introduced the audience to exotic "new" instruments such as the double bass macaroon, the baby monitor ("particularly attractive for mothers") , the pneumatic tube buzzer and a four-part set of ladles with mutes.

Although Holst made fun of Schönberg and the modern school in such a way , he actually had a deep respect for new music . His St Paul's Suite for string orchestra, composed in 1913 , did not yet show any influences from Stravinsky or Schönberg, but in 1914 he began work on a work with the working title Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra (“ Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra ”). For some time now he had been thinking of composing a work of this magnitude that dealt with an astrological theme. After reading What is a horoscope? this project took on concrete forms. In this book, Alan Leo interpreted the characteristics of people who were born under the sign of certain planets, similar to the moods that Holst had in mind: Mars is "strong-willed and sometimes too exuberant" ; Venus reinforces the "affective and emotional side of those born in their sign and thus gives them a strong sense of art and beauty" ; Mercury grants the "ability to use the mind in different ways" ; Jupiter "Abundance of joy and vitality (...), generosity and generosity" ; Saturn has the ability to "slow but steady progress in life" and Uranus has a tendency towards the "metaphysical and occult, which evokes eccentric, difficult to understand and erratic reactions" . Those born under Neptune's influence, on the other hand, are characterized by psychological sensitivity and a susceptibility to otherworldly experiences.

Work structure

In Mars, the Bringer of War , Holst presents such an astonishing vision of mechanized warfare that many listeners have repeatedly assumed that the boisterous piece was composed in response to the First World War . In reality, Holst began this composition several months before the outbreak of war. The general public, on the other hand, did not find out about the horror of the trenches until years after the end of the First World War , the horror of the gas war , the impotence in the face of the first tank attacks and area bombings, or even just about the actual number of victims, which went beyond the imagination.

When the war started, German music was banned in Great Britain, and German musicians lost their jobs with orchestras due to their origins. Gustav von Holst's family originally came from Sweden , but had emigrated to London at the beginning of the 19th century; Holst himself grew up in the Cotswolds . In 1914, he had just a house in Thaxted in the county of Essex bought where it now eyeing the villagers with a certain suspicion. This conflict was soon resolved, however, and Holst was allowed to continue teaching and composing as before.

Holst's biographer Michael Short documented influences of the Firebird and the Five Orchestral Pieces as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams ' A Sea Symphony on the movement Venus, the Bringer of Peace and commented on Holst's tendency to quote from his own compositions. After Venus , he first wrote Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity , which, with its initial echoes of the Petrushka fair, has a wonderfully exuberant atmosphere. This is followed by a melody in the style of the nobilmente motif from Elgar's Second Symphony , which he also used in 1921 under the name Thaxted for the song I Vow to Thee, My Country .

After a brief hiatus, during which he wrote a chorus of the Nunc dimittis for the choir of Westminster Cathedral, Holst resumed work on the planets in 1915 . Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age portrays the relentless approach of the Grim Reaper and the panic reaction of his victim painfully and aptly.

Uranus, the Magician shows influences from Paul Dukas ' sorcerer 's apprentice as well as - in certain high-spirited places - from Strauss ' Till Eulenspiegel .

In the sentence Neptune, the Mystic , the stylistic device of gradual fading out (the whole piece is pianissimo ) creates the impression that the listener is leaving the boundary of the known universe and entering the void behind it. To support this impression, Holst uses a women's choir, which, according to the score, should be placed in an adjoining room and invisible to the audience. Towards the end of the movement only female voices from afar remain, which are slowly faded out by slowly and quietly closing the door to the adjoining room.

There was still Mercury, the Winged Messenger , but Holst had to interrupt his work on the planets to compose his Japanese Suite for the dancer and choreographer Michio Ito from the London Coliseum . He therefore wrote the sentence Mercury, with its constantly changing rhythms and bitonality, only in early 1916.

Reception history

Until 1916, a large part of the composition existed only in the version for two pianos. This version was performed for the first time in the school's music hall - in the presence of Ralph Vaughan Williams - by two of Holst's assistants, Vally Lasker and Nora Day. The two pianists later arranged the musical text for piano four-handed. Most of the orchestration of the new work was done by Holst in 1916, when he also directed several performances of his other works and fulfilled his teaching duties.

In that year Holst made the acquaintance of the conductor Adrian Boult , who had ordered a few pieces from him for a smaller orchestra. In the course of their conversations, Holst arranged a prelude to the planets in the version for two pianos, whereupon Boult added several smaller pieces by Holst to his concert program. Towards the end of the war, Holst received a request from the YMCA for some benefit concerts for British troops stationed abroad. He should travel to Thessaloniki for this. But immediately before the planned departure, his friend and occasional patron Henry Balfour Gardiner surprisingly announced that Boult would conduct a private premiere of the planets in the Queen's Hall . The presentation in front of selected friends, students and colleagues was a triumphant success.

While Holst was still abroad, Boult conducted several public concerts on the planets . Since he had the impression that the audience could not stand more than 30 minutes of New Music in a row, he left out Venus and Neptune . Holst himself returned to England in 1919 and conducted another incomplete performance in November, this time including Venus . The entire work was first performed in November 1920 by the London Symphony Orchestra under Albert Coates with great success with audiences and critics. Performances abroad soon followed, for example the staged performance as a ballet with the choreography by Harald Kreutzberg at the Berlin State Opera in 1929, known there as a dance symphony , so that Holst achieved international fame.

As a side effect of this success, Ralph Vaughan Williams asked him to post the melody that forms the core of Jupiter as a patriotic anthem ( I Vow to Thee, My Country ) . Holst was reluctant to allow this; to his relief the text written by Cecil Spring-Rice matched the melody at least rhythmically. Since then, this song has been very popular in the Anglophone-speaking area - Princess Diana , for example, wished it for her wedding ceremony, and it was also sung at her funeral. On the other hand, his text has recently been controversial because of its racist and war-glorifying undertones.

In March 1972, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Planet Suite in his “Young People's Concert” and added an improvisation called “Pluto, the Unpredictable”.

In 2000, composer Colin Matthews at the suggestion of the conductor Kent Nagano for the Hallé an eighth set of "Pluto, the modernizer" (Pluto, the Renewer) , which the discovered then classified nor as a planet, four years before Holst's death Pluto dedicated . The world premiere of the work by Matthews took place with the Hallé Orchestra under Nagano on November 11, 2000 in Manchester . Since then it has often been included in newer CD recordings.

In 2006, under the concert title Ad Astra, four other works that are inspirationally related to the Holst Suite were premiered by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle , by Kaija Saariaho (Asteroid 4179: Toutatis) , Matthias Pintscher (towards Osiris) , Mark-Anthony Turnage (Ceres) and Brett Dean (Komarov's case) .

In 2014, Clément Mepas from Mâcon ( France ) created the sentence “Earth” (  Terre  ), also called “Earth: Bringer of Life”, as the last addition .

The planets in other musical works

  • The jazz pianist Manuel Krass and his trio Krassport refer to the entire suite in the album The Planets - Discovering Gustav Holst and place it in a jazz context.
  • In the title Running by Sarah Brightman , she uses a part from Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity at the beginning and at the end of the song.
  • The theme of the Jupiter movement is quoted in Frank Zappa's piece Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin ( album Absolutely Free , 1967).
  • The introduction to The Prophet by progressive rock band Yes on the Time and a Word album also quotes Jupiter .
  • The progressive rock band King Crimson played a simplified arrangement of Mars on their live performances in 1969 ; on their second album In the Wake of Poseidon (1970) it was released under the title The Devil's Triangle .
  • The rock band Manfred Mann's Earth Band was inspired by the planets for their album Solar Fire (1973) . Their single Joybringer from the same year is based on the theme of Jupiter . Several versions of Jupiter can be heard on the album Masque . There is an edited version of Mars on Manfred Mann's 2006 album .
  • The Dutchman Ed Starink created a synthesizer adaptation in 1989 which, in addition to the compositions by Gustav Holst, also contains his own compositions, which act as transitions.
  • The Swedish Metal - band Bathory , who as the founder of today's Black - and Viking Metal applies, used in the piece Hammerheart , which appeared on the 1991 plate Twilight of the Gods was included, the theme of Jupiter .
  • The album NATO by the Slovenian band Laibach was introduced by a track of the same name, which is an electronic adaptation of Mars .
  • Individual passages from Mars, the Bringer of War were quoted in the 20-minute title track of the album The Divine Wings of Tragedy by the American progressive metal band Symphony X.
  • Similarities to the parts in Andante by Neptune, the Mystic can also be found in the works of the American film composer James Horner - who, like Holst, studied at the Royal College of Music in London.
  • In 1977 Isao Tomita realized the orchestral suite for synthesizers in his own way: He preceded the movement on the planet Mars with a rocket launch dominated by the Jupiter theme with a countdown, which brought the movement to over 10 minutes.
  • The British metal band Iron Maiden plays part of Mars, the Bringer of War as an intro on their tour that started in October 2006 . The topic of "war" is a main focus of the new album A Matter of Life and Death presented on this tour .
  • The American death metal band Nile quoted on their album Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka with the song Ramses - Bringer of War to Mars both from the title and musically.
  • The 1986 LP Emerson, Lake & Powell includes an adaptation of Mars, the Bringer of War .
  • In 2001 Vangelis processed the Mars theme in his album Mythodea - Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey .

The planets in the score

The planets in computer games

  • Sierra's game Outpost from 1994, which is about the creation of a human colony in a distant star system after the earth was made uninhabitable by an asteroid hit, plays a MIDI version of Mars, the Bringer of War , when the colony ship's starting sequence begins. A CD was produced from this version.
  • In Commander Keen 5, the song Mars, the Warbringer, can be heard in the last level, the Quantum Explosion Dynamo.
  • In Zak McKracken , Mars, the Warbringer, can be heard when the characters Melissa and Lesslie are piloted on Mars for the first time.
  • In the video game Super Mario Bros. 3 , the melody of the airship levels is based on the play by Mars, the Bringer of War .
  • The background music for the computer game Mega lo Mania is based on Mars, the Bringer of War .
  • A phrase from Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity is quoted in the soundtrack of the computer game Catherine .

Web links

Commons : The Planets  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Dieter Blume: Regents of Heaven. Astrological images in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Berlin 2000. (Studies from the Warburg House. 3.)
  2. ^ Raymond Heat: Holst, Astrology and Modernism in "The Planets", in: Tempo, New Series. No. 187, 1993 pp. 15-22.
  3. Score of the Neptune movement in the IMSLP. Retrieved September 12, 2015 .
  4. Original Planets from the brilliant piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow The Classical Reviewer, August 1, 2012, accessed November 19, 2019
  5. ^ International Encyclopedia of Dance. Ed. by Selma Jeanne Cohen . New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1998.
  6. Mark Oliver: Hymn has racist overtones, says bishop. The Guardian, August 12, 2004, accessed January 5, 2018 .
  7. Jack Gottlieb (Ed.): Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts . Amadeus Press, Milwaukee 2005, ISBN 1-57467-102-2 , pp. 360 .
  8. List of compositions by the composer Clément Mepas. Retrieved January 18, 2017 .
  9. ↑ A recording by the Mâcon Symphony Orchestra for online listening on “You-Tube”. Retrieved January 18, 2017 .
  10. ^ IMDb The Planets