Sunday morning music

I’ve been working my trousers to the bone, editing and preparing the second and third volumes of my new “Cochrane’s Company” trilogy for publication in June and July respectively, and formatting the first volume for print publication.  It’s an immense amount of work, not only to try to get their elements uniform across all three volumes, but trying to catch as many errors as possible and fix them before publication.  (Sadly, in the first volume, “The Stones of Silence“, I’ve already found – and/or been alerted to by readers – half a dozen mistakes.  I’ve just corrected them all, and a new edition will be going up next week.  Those who’ve bought it already in the Kindle Store will find their editions automatically updated, provided they’ve turned on the automatic updates feature.  That’s another reason to delay the print edition of each book by a few weeks:  it gives my readers time to alert me to any mistakes I may have missed, so I can correct them before they’re irretrievably on paper.)

Be that as it may, all three books are set in space:  so I figured some music around that theme might be appropriate.  Here’s Gustav Holst‘s suite “The Planets“.  This live performance, during the 2016 Proms Concerts, is by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the CBSO Youth Chorus, conducted by Edward Gardner.

When “The Planets” was written, between 1914 and 1916, Pluto had not yet been discovered, so it was not included.  The original suite ended with “Neptune, the Mystic”, which “concludes with a wordless female chorus gradually receding, an effect which Warrack likens to ‘unresolved timelessness … never ending, since space does not end, but drifting away into eternal silence’.”  However, this rendition includes an additional piece, “Pluto, the Renewer“, written as an add-on to the suite by Colin Matthews.  The elements are, in order:

Mars, the Bringer of War 0:00
Venus, the Bringer of Peace 7:15
Mercury, the Winged Messenger 15:09
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity 18:58
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age 26:42
Uranus, the Magician 35:32
Neptune, the Mystic 41:20
Pluto, the Renewer 49:17

Lovely, stirring music.  One does wonder how much influence the First World War (which was raging during the period in which Holst composed this suite) had on its themes and musical imagery.  I suspect it was more than a little.



  1. So Mars is in 5/4 time? Thats fairly cool especially considering Holst wrote that in the WWI time frame. 5/4 shows up a fair bit in jazz from the 50's and early 60's. Classic example most people know is the Mission Impossible theme. the 5/4 signature
    always sounds like the next downbeat is late if you're expecting 4/4. That feeling is very distinct in MI theme, but not so clear in Mars. I'll have to listen to it again.

    As a separate issue John Williams (of Star wars music fame) is known to be a fan of Holst amongst other other 20th century english composers. The influence of The Planets
    is immense with The Imperial march (aka Darth Vader's theme) clearly borrowing heavily from Mars and the Force theme (Luke/ Obi Wan Kenobi) borrowing from Neptune (the Mystic). Some might go far as to say steal 🙂 but thats part of the music game building on what has gone before.

  2. Mars seems to be used as inspiration by film composers on a regular basis. You can hear it in James Newton Howard's score to Kevin Costner's film Wyatt Earp, when the Earps and Doc Holliday begin their grim march down the street to the OK Corral gunfight. I seem to recall Braveheart also used Mars as inspiration, although I could be wrong on that.

    My own personal favorite is Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, especially the middle string section. That's the piece I'd most like to conduct, were I an orchestra conductor.

  3. "Take Five" is also 5/4, but that is a bit obvious, eh?

    Tchaikovsky wrote a waltz in 5 beats/measure (!!!). IIRC it was in one of his ballets, but memory is in 'spotty' mode today.

  4. "Mars" was supposedly composed before WWI broke out.
    That and "Jupiter" are personal favorites.

    You can hear Jupiter's echoes in the music composed for James Earl Jones' throne room scenes as the head bad guy in Conan, the Barbarian, and the closing award scene in John Williams' compositions for Star Wars fairly drips with Holst's influence.

    Not bad for music that was, then, over 60 years old.

    The best artists steal a little bit of fire from everyone who went before them.

  5. It shouldn't be noted that the last movement, Pluto, was not composed by Holst in the early 20th century, but by Colin Matthews in 2000.

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