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Gustav Holst – The Planets

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

When Gustav Holst completed the The Planets, he thought it was failure. But what resulted is among the most popular, beloved, and recognizable classical music.

Get a good recording of this. You wouldn’t think it makes a huge difference, but it does. I have the Berlin Philharmonic, which is solid.

Being in band in high school, my relationship with Gustav Holst began with forced listening of “Mars” and “Jupiter,” the band directors pointing out how similar the former was to the Gladiator soundtrack (we played Gladiator for our marching band show). To my young, musical mind, I couldn’t fathom the comparison. All I knew was that this song was one of the most B.A. things I’d ever heard.

It wasn’t until college that I got my own copy of The Planets. In depressing times, all I had to do with listen to the Jupiter chorale to instantly feel better. I guess Holst didn’t call that movement the Bringer of Jollity for nothing.

“Mars” starts the suite off intense with its off-putting 5/4 time signature. Listeners will instantly draw parallels with John Williams and Hans Zimmer – after all, Holst seems to be the main source of inspiration for all soundtracks in moviedom. Personally, I get the image of an epic battle on the surface of Mars between aliens and humans involving AT-ST’s from Star Wars. Nerd alert.

But my favorite movement has to be “Saturn.” It is slow, methodical, and clashing. It’s soft, spacey, and then screams anger and confusion breaking from silent repression. The notes pummel you, leaving you bewildered and shocked, like the first time you wake up to discover that you’re old, truly old, or the first time the quiet kid everyone picks on lashes out like a rabid animal. “Saturn” is haunting and icy, and signifies a departure from the more upbeat planets of before, diving into the moodiness of “Uranus” and “Neptune.”

The Planets has actually inspired an idea for a novel within my head. This music feeds my imagination and makes me think. Who needs words?

The Planets is a great introduction to classical music for the newbie. It’s accessible, and the movements are not long at all (the longest may be about seven minutes or so). It has been a great pleasure in my life – and a few times a year, I find myself listening to it again.

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