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The Planets

The Planets, opus 32, is an orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst. It was written between 1914 and 1916 and received its first complete public performance on October 10, 1920 in Birmingham, with Appleby Matthews conducting. The suite has seven movements, each of them named after a planet (and its corresponding Roman deity):

  1. Mars, the Bringer of War
  2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
  5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  6. Uranus, the Magician
  7. Neptune, the Mystic

The concept of the work is astrological rather than astronomical (that’s why Earth is not included), and was suggested to Holst by Clifford Bax[?] who introduced him to astrology. Each movement is intended to convey ideas and emotions associated with the Roman deity in question.

The Planets is scored for a large orchestra, including an organ and, in the last movement, a wordless women’s choir. Holst’s use of orchestra in this work is very imaginative and colourful, showing the influence of Igor Stravinsky and other continental composers rather than his English predecessors. The audience at the first performance was excited by such new sonorities and the suite was an instant success. Although The Planets remains Holst’s most popular work, the composer himself didn’t count it as one of his best creations and later often complained about his other works being completely eclipsed by it. He did, however, conduct a recorded performance of the suite in the early 1920s.

The "Mars" and "Jupiter" movements, in particular, have often been used as film music, for example in The Right Stuff. The melody of the slow middle section of "Jupiter" became popular as a patriotic hymn with words (beginning "I vow to thee, my country") added by Cecil Spring-Rice[?], although Holst had no such patriotic intentions when he wrote the music. His own favourite movement was "Saturn".

In 2000, The Hallé Orchestra commissioned composer Colin Matthews[?], a Holst specialist, to write a new movement to be played with the suite in recognition of Pluto, discovered in 1930, 14 years after Holst's composition. Matthews called his piece Pluto, the Renewer, and it was first performed in Manchester on May 11, 2000, with Kent Nagano conducting the Hallé Orchestra. Ironically, the movement was added at about the same time that astronomers were coming to question the status of Pluto as a planet (see the article on Pluto for further details).

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