Gustav Holst: The Planets

excerps copied from Wikipedia.com

Gustav Theodore Holst (21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934) was an English composer. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets.

holst

Having studied at the Royal College of Music in London, his early work was influenced by Grieg, Wagner, Richard Strauss and fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams, and later, through Vaughan Williams, the music of Ravel. The combined influence of Ravel, Hindu spiritualism and English folk tunes enabled Holst to free himself of the influence of Wagner and Strauss and to forge his own style. Holst’s music is well known for unconventional use of metre and haunting melodies.

Holst composed almost 200 works, including operas, ballets, choral hymns and songs.

An enthusiastic educator, Holst became music master at St Paul’s Girls’ School in 1905 and director of music at Morley College in 1907, continuing in both posts until retirement.

He was the brother of Hollywood actor Ernest Cossart and father of the composer and conductor Imogen Holst, who wrote a biography of him in 1938.

He was originally named Gustavus Theodor von Holst, but he dropped the “von” from his name in response to anti-German sentiment in Britain during World War I, making it official by deed poll in 1918.

Gustav Holst is best known for his composition titled, The Planets.

The concept of the work is astrological rather than astronomical (which is why Earth is not included). The idea was suggested to Holst by Clifford Bax, who introduced him to astrology when the two were amongst a small group of English artists holidaying in Majorca in the spring of 1913; Holst became quite a devotee of the subject, and liked to cast friends’ horoscopes for fun.[3][4] Each movement is intended to convey ideas and emotions associated with the influence of the planets on the psyche, not the Roman deities. Holst also used Alan Leo‘s book What is a Horoscope? as a springboard for his own ideas, as well as for the subtitles (i.e., “The Bringer of…”) for the movements.

The Queen’s Hall, where The Planets premiered in 1918

 

The Planets as a work in progress was originally scored for a piano duet, except for “Neptune”, which was scored for a single organ, as Holst believed that the sound of the piano was too harsh for a world as mysterious and distant as Neptune. Holst then scored the suite for a large orchestra, and it was in this incarnation that it became enormously popular. Holst’s use of orchestration was very imaginative and colourful, showing the influence of Arnold Schoenberg and other continental composers of the day rather than his English predecessors. The influence of Igor Stravinsky‘s The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring is especially notable. These new (at least for British audiences) sonorities helped make the suite an instant success. Although The Planets remains Holst’s most popular work, the composer himself did not count it among his best creations and later in life complained that its popularity had completely surpassed his other works. He did, however, conduct a recorded performance of the suite in the early 1920s, and he was partial to his own favourite movement, “Saturn”.

During the last weeks of World War I, the private orchestral premiere of The Planets suite was held at rather short notice on 29 September 1918, in the Queen’s Hall. It was hastily rehearsed; the musicians first saw the complicated music only two hours before the performance. Despite this auspicious venue, it was a comparably intimate affair, attended by around 250 invited associates, with a chamber orchestra and choir conducted by Sir Adrian Boult at the request of his friends—Holst, and financial backer and fellow composer Balfour Gardiner. An ecstatically-received public concert was given a few weeks later while Holst was overseas, but out of the seven movements, only five were played. After the war, the first complete public performance occurred on 10 October 1920, in Birmingham. Holst himself conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a recorded performance of The Planets in 1926. In 2003, this was released on compact disc by IMP and later on Naxos outside the US. Because of time constraints of the 78rpm format, the tempo is often much faster than is usually performed today.

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