Orchestral Scores of Gustav Holst's 'The Planets'
Recorded July 16 & 17, 2007.
"Mercury, the Winged Messenger"
"Venus, the Bringer of Peace"
"Mars - the Bringer of War"
"Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity"
"Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age"
"Uranus, the Magician"
"Neptune, the Mystic"
The Planets Op. 32 is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Notable for its elaborate score for large orchestra with some unusual instruments, The Planets is the most-performed composition by an English composer. Its first complete public performance was on October 10, 1920 in Birmingham, with Appleby Matthews conducting. However, an earlier invitation-only premiere occurred during World War I on September 29, 1918, in London's Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.
The elaborate score of The Planets produces unusual, complex sounds by using some unusual instruments and multiples of instruments in the large orchestra (like Mahler's Sixth of 1906), such as three oboes, three bassoons, two piccolos, two harps, bass oboe, two timpani players, glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone, tubular bells, and organ (see "Instrumentation" below). Holst had been influenced by Stravinsky, who used four oboes and four bassoons in his Rite of Spring (1912-1913) and by Schoenberg's 1909 composition titled "Five Pieces for Orchestra". Recordings of The Planets have been made by many renowned orchestras and conductors.
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. Each movement is intended to convey ideas and emotions associated with the human 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 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 Schoenberg, and other continental composers of the day rather than his English predecessors. The influence of Igor Stravinsky's 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 eclipsed 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 hastily-rehearsed (the musicians first saw the complicated music only two hours before the performance) private orchestral premiere of The Planets suite was held at rather short notice on September 29, 1918 in the Royal Albert Hall. Despite this auspicious venue, it was a comparably intimate affair, attended by around 250 associates, with a chamber orchestra and choir conducted by 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 October 10, 1920, in Birmingham.
The work is scored for four flutes (third and fourth doubling piccolo and bass (i.e. alto) flute in G), three oboes (the third doubling bass oboe), English horn, three clarinets in A and B flat, bass clarinet in B flat, three bassoons, double bassoon, six horns in F, four trumpets in C, three trombones, tenor tuba in B flat, bass tuba, timpani (six drums, requiring two players), triangle, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, gong, tubular bells, Glockenspiel, xylophone, celesta, organ, two harps and strings. For "Neptune", two three-part women's choruses, located in an adjoining room which is to be screened from the audience, are required. Non-orchestral versions
One piano: according to the liner notes, "... John York found an engraved copy of Holst's own four-hands, one piano arrangement."; Two pianos: For a recording of a two-piano version, see Naxos-catalog-item-8.554369. Holst originally composed the suite for two pianos. He had his assistants play the four-hands version to aid in composition. Organ: transcription by Peter Sykes.  Brass ensemble: the Empire Brass has recorded a shortened version of Jupiter. Symphonic Band transcriptions written by Holst himself of Mars and Jupiter exist and are currently published by Boosey and Hawkes. (see "Media" below) 
The suite has seven movements, each of them named after a planet and its corresponding Roman deity (see also Planets in astrology):
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
Neptune, the Mystic
With the exception of the first two movements, the order of the movements corresponds to increasing distance of their eponymous planets from the Earth. Some commentators have suggested that this is intentional, with the anomaly of Mars preceding Venus being a device to make the first four movements match the form of a symphony. One alternative explanation may be the ruling of astrological signs of the zodiac by the planets. If the zodiac signs are listed along with their ruling planets in the traditional order starting with Aries, ignoring duplication, Pluto (then undiscovered and now de-planetised), and the luminaries (the Sun and the Moon), then the order of the movements matches. Another possibility, this time from an astronomical perspective, is that the first three movements, representing the inner terrestrial planets, are ordered according to their decreasing distance from the Sun. The remaining movements, representing the gas giants that lie beyond the asteroid belt, are ordered by increasing distance from the Sun. Critic David Hurwitz offers an alternative explanation for the piece's structure: that "Jupiter" is the centrepoint of the suite and that the movements on either side are in mirror images. Thus "Mars" involves motion and "Neptune" is static; "Venus" is sublime while "Uranus" is vulgar, and "Mercury" is light and scherzando while "Saturn" is heavy and plodding. (This hypothesis is lent credence by the fact that the two outer movements, "Mars" and "Neptune," are both written in the rather unusual meter of five.)
"Neptune" was the first piece of music to have a fade-out ending. Holst stipulates that the women's choruses are "to be placed in an adjoining room, the door of which is to be left open until the last bar of the piece, when it is to be slowly and silently closed", and that the final bar (scored for choruses alone) is "to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance". Although commonplace today, the effect bewitched audiences in the era before widespread recorded sound - after the initial 1918 run-through, Holst's daughter Imogen (in addition to watching the charwomen dancing in the aisles during "Jupiter") remarked that the ending was "unforgettable, with its hidden chorus of women's voices growing fainter and fainter... until the imagination knew no difference between sound and silence".
Pluto was discovered in 1930, four years before Holst's death, and it was hailed by astronomers as a new planet. Holst expressed no interest in writing a movement for it. By that time, he had become disillusioned by the popularity of the suite, believing that it detracted from his other works. Numerous other composers have written their own Pluto movements. In 2000, the Hallé Orchestra commissioned the composer Colin Matthews, a Holst specialist, to write a new eighth movement, which Matthews entitled Pluto, the Renewer. Dedicated to Imogen Holst, Gustav Holst's daughter, it was first performed in Manchester on May 11, 2000, with Kent Nagano conducting the Hallé Orchestra. Matthews changed the ending of Neptune into a transition to Pluto. In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) for the first time defined the term "planet", which resulted in a change in Pluto's status, from a planet to a dwarf planet. Thus, Holst's original work is once again a complete representation of all the extra-terrestrial planets in the Solar System>
The photographs below the recordings are taken mostly on the evening of January 29, 2007. They appear as daylight, but with a near full moon, the frozen lake in front of the house took on a "planetary" appearance quite interestingly.
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