Program Notes
feb 14, 15
Motion resumes for the next planet, portrayed
in music of scintillating brilliance, sparkling colors and
rapidly pulsating shifts of light and shade. To astrologers,
Mercury is the thinker, but Holst’s
, despite
his disclaimer about classical mythology, is clearly the
winged messenger, darting about with feathery lightness.
Astrologer Noel Tyl tells us that Jupiter
“symbolizes expansiveness, scope of enthusiasm,
knowledge, honor and opportunity.” Holst’s
corresponds in all these respects, depicting the
quintessence of the plump, jovial fellow who knows
how to enjoy life and lives it to the fullest. As a hedonist
indulges in many pleasures, so does Holst lavish upon
this planet a wealth of musical ideas—five of them, in
fact, every one heard initially in the horns.
A greater contrast with jollity could scarcely be
imagined than the grey, mournful sounds that greet
our ears at the beginning of
. Like the inexorable
ticking of some cosmic clock, flutes (four of them,
including a bass flute) and harps mark the unstoppable
passage of time. A strange, cold air seems to hover
over the opening pages, as a two-note motif swells and
recedes in various instruments. A solemn dirge, heard
initially in the trombones, underscores the despair and
weariness of the grim scenario. Bells clang, clashing in
angry syncopation with the booming clock. The frenzy
reaches a climax, then subsides as the wisdom, serenity,
resignation and acceptance of old age settle over the
music. This was Holst’s favorite planet in his suite.
In astrology, Uranus rules over astrologers
themselves. It also rules inventors; hence it is entirely
appropriate to imagine in Holst’s music a kind of
“sorcerer’s apprentice” scenario, with a mad magician
racing about his dungeon workshop and, at the
climactic moment, exulting in some arcane discovery
about the nature of the universe. The four-note motif
brazenly announced by trumpets and trombones, then
echoed by tubas at double speed and by timpani at
quadruple speed, constitutes the molecular matter from
which Holst constructs his musical formula. The climax
is truly fearsome—a massive sound from the huge
orchestra playing
, to which is added a glissando in
the organ. Our magician has obviously unlocked some
terrible power.
Nearly tuneless, often without any kind of
metrical pulse, and played
throughout, the
music of
takes on at times an ethereal beauty, at
others terrifying mystery. The icy sounds of flutes, celesta,
harps and, eventually, a wordless female chorus add to
the aura of remoteness and haunting visions of empty
space. By the end, the listener has been transported not
only to the limits of audibility but to the edge of infinity.
4 flutes (1 doubling piccolo, 1 doubling piccolo and bass flute),
3 oboes (1 doubling bass oboe), English horn, 3 clarinets,
bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets,
3 trombones, tuba, tenor tuba, timpani (2 players), bass drum,
cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, snare drum, bells, tambourine,
triangle, xylophone, celesta, organ, 2 harps,
strings and women’s chorus
Program notes by
Robert Markow.
Holst conducting
The Planets
: caricature by W. Barton
Wilkinson, 1920.
1...,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21 23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,...40