1916, 1976, Music

The Planets (1976) by Gustav Holst, performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia conducted by Eugene Ormandy

Holst’s most famous work has become one of the most famous pieces of music of the 20th century. And though it has been featured in endless film and TV projects, and I am mostly just familiar with “Mars,” because of its cover by King Crimson (under the title “The Devil’s Triangle” for copyright reasons).

“Mars” is an absolute classic. Of that, there is no doubt. But the rest of the suite makes less of an impression on me. I often find the most famous of “classical” music pieces (especially modern ones), to be the least interesting. They’re famous for a reason: they’re easier to love. Holst composed this during the midst of a musical revolution – actually, during multiple musical revolutions, one of which Holst was sometimes sort of participating in – and on the whole, The Planets is one of those pieces from the teens that sounds quite out of touch with the revolution around it. Of course, that’s a particularly English thing. The English are not exactly known for their forward-thinking music. One of the reasons it’s likely so celebrated is because English music has always been so far behind everyone else. Most of the British were probably still listening to High Romantic music and were either unaware of the revolutions on the continent or were aghast at them.

Still, we cannot ignore the impact of this music: this is iconic stuff. It is for this suite and practically this suite alone that Holst is famous, and this music has infused our collective consciousness in a way that the more interesting music of the period has not. So that has to stand for something.

This particular recording was made for the 50th anniversary of the piece, if I am not mistaken.


PS: I would love to here the dual piano version, which is probably much more in my wheelhouse.

PPS: Well, “Neptune” is pretty damn classic too. It’s something that’s been copied ad nauseum. So it’s really two of the pieces I like, and the rest I don’t.

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