The English composer Gustav Holst (21.09.1874 – 25.05.1934) was born at 4 Pittville Terrace, Cheltenham where there is now an interesting museum. He is best known for his suite The Planets, Op. 32 which took him more than two years to write (1914-16). It was an immediate success; much to the consternation of the composer, who was a very shy man who liked to be left to compose in peace. Holst composed a large number of other works across a range of genres, although none of them achieved anywhere near the popularity of The Planets. However works such as the St Paul’s Suite, Op. 29 No. 2, his two suites for military band, his ballet music for The Perfect Fool and his Choral Fantasia, H177 are all well worth listening to.
The Planets is typical of much of Holst’s music in that it blends austerity with voluptuousness. It is a suite of seven movements. Holst’s starting point for the music was the astrological character of each planet. As such there is no programme for the suite, and Holst pointed out that it has no connection with the deities of classical mythology. Clues to the meaning of the music are the subjects of the individual movements:
- Mars, the Bringer of War
- Venus, the Bringer of Peace
- Mercury, the Winged Messenger
- Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
- Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
- Uranus, the Magician and
- Neptune, the Mystic.
The grand tune that ends the parade of themes in Jupiter will be recognised by most as the setting for the patriotic hymn ‘I vow to thee my country’.
Our recommended recording comes from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit and was recorded in St Eustache Church, Montreal with its quite unique accoustic. This, combined with excellent microphone technique, led the CD to win a Gramophone magazine ‘Engineering’ award in 1987.