Thursday, 27 February 2014

Holst's "The Planets"

27th February 1919

This day in history...First public performance of Gustav Holst's "The Planets"

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
The Queen's Hall, London 1919
The Planets is one of the most famous suites of orchestral music in the history of the world. They were first written by Gustav Holst between 1914 - 1916, after Holst's interest in astronomy and astrology lead him to read Alan Leo's book "What is a Horoscope?" which was divided into chapters in which Holst used when naming his compositions:
Earth is not included as it was considered a reference point when looking at the Solar System. In Modern performances of The Planets there have been several additions; Pluto and a four piece suite on the asteroids in the Solar System. The physical planet of Pluto was discovered four years before Holst's death, he however did not want to write a new movement, which will be explained in a bit.

Whilst there is some confusion over when The Planets were first performed, for the sake of this blog we can assume it was this day in 1919. The performance was conducted by Adrian Boult (on request by Holst), in the last weeks of the First World War, to an intimate audience of around 250 people at The Queen's Hall, London. Boult only played five pieces of the suite as he believed that as The Planets was a new concept and language for people to listen to, half an hour was more  than enough to initially take in. In fact, it wasn't until November 1920 when all The Planets were performed at once in public. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
The image above shows a rare autograph from Holst to Boult that was found on top of Boult's copy of The Planets: "This copy is the property of Adrian Boult who first caused The Planets to shine in public and thereby earned the gratitude of Gustav Holst." This is considered rare as Holst refused to give out autographs and interviews due to his distaste in the popularity of The Planets. Normally, receiving the up most praise, respect and popularity for work would greatly please people, however, Holst hated The Planets' attention. He felt that the suite drew attention away from his previous and following work and that anything he wrote after The Planets was deemed a disappointment to the public. He also disliked the way that the public had manipulated the way he had written the suite. For instance, Holst was encouraged to write a 'happy ending' to Jupiter, despite his beliefs that 'in the real world the end is not happy at all'. His pessimistic view of The Planets also caused him to turn down awards and honours. It is ironic how the piece that made him so famous, brought him the most discontent. 

You can listen to The Planets by clicking on each bullet point above. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.

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