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Observations placeholder

Holst, Gustav - The Planets - Neptune



Type of Spiritual Experience


From Wikipedia

Holst conceived the idea of The Planets in 1913, partly as a result of his interest in astrology, and also from his determination, despite the failure of Phantastes, to produce a large-scale orchestral work. The chosen format may have been influenced by Schoenberg's Fünf Orchesterstücke, and shares something of the aesthetic, Matthews suggests, of Debussy's Nocturnes or La mer.

Holst began composing The Planets in 1914; the movements appeared not quite in their final sequence; "Mars" was the first to be written, followed by "Venus" and "Jupiter". "Saturn", "Uranus" and "Neptune" were all composed during 1915, and "Mercury" was completed in 1916.

Each planet is represented with a distinct character; Dickinson observes that "no planet borrows colour from another".

In "Mars", a persistent, uneven rhythmic cell consisting of five beats, combined with trumpet calls and harmonic dissonance provides battle music which Short asserts is unique in its expression of violence and sheer terror, "... Holst's intention being to portray the reality of warfare rather than to glorify deeds of heroism".

In "Venus", Holst incorporated music from an abandoned vocal work, A Vigil of Pentecost, to provide the opening; the prevalent mood within the movement is of peaceful resignation and nostalgia.

"Mercury" is dominated by uneven metres and rapid changes of theme, to represent the speedy flight of the winged messenger.

"Jupiter" is renowned for its central melody, in Dickinson's view "a fantastic relaxation in which many retain a far from sneaking delight". Dickinson and other critics have decried the later use of the tune in the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country—despite Holst's full complicity.

For "Saturn", Holst again used a previously-composed vocal piece, Dirge and Hymeneal, as the basis for the movement, where repeated chords represent the relentless approach of old age.

"Uranus", which follows, has elements of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, in its depiction of the magician who "disappears in a whiff of smoke as the sonic impetus of the movement diminishes from fff to ppp in the space of a few bars".

"Neptune", the final movement, 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".

Holst insisted on the unity of the whole work, and opposed the performance of individual movements. Nevertheless, Imogen [his daughter] writes that the piece has "suffered from being quoted in snippets as background music".


A description of the experience

HOLST - Neptune from "The Planets Suite"

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox

The source of the experience

Holst, Gustav

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps