Holst The Planets op. 32 The Perfect Fool op. 39

October 5, 2019


Track Listing

  1.   Mars, the Bringer of War  7:41
  2.   Venus, the Bringer of Peace  8:19
  3.   Mercury, the Winged Messenger  3:54
  4.   Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity  8:23
  5.   Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age  9:26
  6.   Uranus, the Magician  5:52
  7.   Neptune, the Mystic  7:08
  8.   The Perfect Fool Ballet Music  10:39

TOTAL TIME,  61:22        RR-146

How many recordings can one have of “The Planets” and why would you buy this one over 100 other ones and available for free on Google, Spotify, and YouTube at a lower quality. Reference Recordings set the standard for the very best in recording and engineering offering Dolby Surround 5.1, SACD, and stereo with HDCD. The superior recording, along with the fine reading of the Kansas City Symphony directed by Michael Stern, makes this the must-have recording. Did I say that the download was available in high resolution?

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was born to three generations of musicians and Gustav continued the tradition although neuritis in his right hand prevented him from playing the piano. He did supplement his income by playing trombone in concert bands and churches as well as an organ in church.

Joining the Hammersmith Socialists Holst met and fell in love with Isobelle Harrison, a young blue-eyed soprano who he married in 1901. They had one child Imogen Holst (1907-1984) who went on to champion her father and was a composer and author among other accomplishments

The working title for “The Planets” was “Seven Large Pieces For Orchestra” and each movement was a tone poem, fashioned after Franz Liszt and Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces For Orchestra.” It was written between 1914-16 and first performed by Sir Adrian Boult in September of 1918. As an aside, he was to record the work sixty years later.

It should be noted that Holst wasn’t an astronomer but an astrologer thus the mixing up of the order of the planets (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) according to the astrological characters. The music has to do with the descriptions of war, peace, messenger, jollity, old age, magician, and mystic. Originally it was written with the descriptions only with the planets being added later. Extremely popular, parts of the works have appeared in nearly 100 films including Hans Zimmer’s “The Gladiator” which resulted in copyright infringement. “The Planets,” was studied by composer John Williams for his soundtrack “Star Wars.”

Mars, the bringer of war is a militant piece that features a ferocious five-note pounding rhythm that like a war machine is relentless. There are two themes the first of which has no harmonic development. The second theme comes from the tenor tuba which is replied to by the trumpets. What makes this music so unique is that it’s entirely inhuman even to death. This movement has been the subject of many uses in television, films, and advertising.

Venus, the bringer of peace is quite a complex movement in terms of harmony and texture for a very serene work. It features solo violin and oboe passages along with passages of a heavenly nature from the harp, celeste, and glockenspiel. This is the complete opposite of Mars.

Mercury, the winged messenger features two simultaneous rhythms in two different keys, from the shortest of the seven movements, something which Holst used in some of his other works. It is definitely a bouncy upbeat composition that is again completely different from the two previous movements.

Jupiter, the bringer of jollity. The middle movement which the others rotate around is a high spirited movement in tempo and rhythm. There are six themes that Holst managed to include in eight-plus minutes. This movement has also been used to stand alone in many different genres. The overall texture is one of English folk themes, something that Holst was greatly influenced by. The final theme was adapted by Holst in the early twenties “I Vow to Thee My Country” an English Patriotic hymn with words by Spring Rice.

Saturn, the bringer of old age begins with great despair from the double basses behind the steady rhythm of the clock sounding the end. The second theme by the trombones is a voice of wisdom and the movement ends on a note of acceptance and tranquility. This movement is unique as it takes you through events as opposed to one single moment in time.

Uranus, the magician. Picture the cone hat and garbs of material and a pompous person loud and full of energy and he shows his tricks right away. For an encore, he surrounds himself in flames and disappears,

Neptune, the mystic is without melody and harmony, only parts. It is barren and empty in effect. A chorus of women offers a wordless passage that slowly ends in nothing along with the end of the movement. The choir sang in an adjoining room and the door very quietly closed to end their soprano/alto singing.

When one listens to this keep in mind that it was written over 100 years ago and it still has that fresh sound of a modern-day composition. Not a fan of lists this is one composition that belongs in the top ten must-have classical works. Why not get the latest in a noise-free background and Dolby surround for your sound system. The pace of the work while slightly faster than most is a very pleasant listening experience


Ballet Music (10:39)

Andante (invocation)

Dance of Spirits of Earth

Dance of Spirits of Water

Dance of Spirits of Fire

“Perfect Fool” is a one-act opera written as a parody of Richard Wagner opera’s between 1918-1922 that is seldom performed if ever but the opening ten-minute overture has turned out to be one of Holst’s more popular works as it performs like his Uranus which plays out like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The work begins with the spirits of earth performed by a trombone that rises in energy and descends in deliberate purpose. The double basses depict the nature of the earth.  When the awkward dance ends the earth spirit runs underground leaving a solo viola to conjure up the spirits of the water love theme. The third theme of fire needs no visual lighting as the music crackles the noise of the flames. Written closely in time to “The Planets” there are some similar sounds in the orchestrations and harmony especially at the beginning of the overture.



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