One of the 20th century’s most enduring Classical works is Gustav Holst’s The Planets. It has been recorded by nearly every leading orchestra in the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic.
Excerpts from The Planets have appeared throughout popular culture. Sci-Fi films such as Star Trek IV, Return Of The Jedi, and The Man Who Fell To Earth have all incorporated selections of it.
Even Jimmy Page has paid tribute Holst‘s masterpiece. In the midst of his extended solo in “Dazed And Confused” from The Song Remains The Same, Page quotes “Mars, The Bringer Of War.”
With the myriad of recordings available, one might wonder, why another? Conductor Paavo Jarvi and The Cincinnati Orchestra bring an intimate knowledge of the material to the studio. Their vision, from November 2008 is as pristine a version of the work as has ever been presented.
The Planets as a whole is an incredible achievement. Written between 1914-16, the suite cannot help but to reflect it’s time. Holst’s homeland of England were swept up in the carnage of World War I at this point. He volunteered, and was reportedly torn apart because his service was declined due to his terrible eyesight.
Instead, Holst taught music and was introduced to astrology, which in turn lead to his composition of The Planets.
Beginning with “Mars, The Bringer Of War” through “Neptune, The Mystic,” The Planets is really of reflection of the various states of mankind. This view of man is seen through the astrological eyes of the ancient Greek gods, who correspond to the planets in our solar system.
The remaining five pieces in Holst’s suite are:
“Venus, The Bringer Of Peace”
“Mercury, The Winged Messenger”
“Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity”
“Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age”
“Uranus, The Magician”
It is an amazing conceit, taking the gods of yore, and writing music to describe them. As there is no astrological sign for Earth, and Pluto had yet to be discovered, Holst’s composition remains a seven-song cycle. It is certainly one of the most influential of its type.
As something of a bonus, Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra is included in the disc as well. Britten wrote the piece in 1946 as a literal guide to the orchestra, sans narration. Jarvi and The Cincinnati Symphony recorded this in 2006, and it has been previously released.
I recommend this CD to everyone, but most especially to parents. Paavo Jarvi and The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra have put together a program that serves as a marvelous introduction to some of the best classical music of the 20th century.
The Planets and The Young Persons Guide To The Orchestra is a nice place to start in appreciating what formal music has to offer. More to the point, it is a great recording of some of the finest classical music of the past 100 years.