gustav holst – the planets

a small amount of orchestral music. this brings out my love of all things celestial. and of course, a foundation for how lyric-less music can convey such clear images in one’s mind.

it starts with mars, my planet (as an aries). i didn’t actually know that the seven movements of the planets were based on the imputed astrological qualities of the planets, rather than any other character they might have. it must be taken that in any permutation, mars is violent, irritable and red. the first movement sounds red. the strength and certainty are what i take to be the main characters of mars in myself. and the ego, perhaps a little… but i’m not sure i so often feel that level of power. but it’s such a fantastic start to the story.

to follow mars with venus, while a common juxtaposition, shows just how opposed the concepts and characters are. do we think this way of venus because music is made like this, or does the music sound like venus? it’s quiet and beautiful.

mercury sounds suitably irritating like a cherub…

jupiter is the “song” i know best from the suite. it is the clear and literal centrepiece. it is the most authoritative piece without being conscious of it, like mars is. the dude has a beard, that’s for sure, and you’re having a deep philosophical conversation with him.

the middle part of jupiter is, i am convinced, one of the most beautiful passages of music ever written. when i used to be able to read music as a youth, this was my most favourite song to play on the cello. to feel it resonate through your body as you perform it is indescribable.

saturn is the planet i look for in other people, in terms of where their life is at. its orbit brings it round about every 30 years. each is like a generation in your own life, and more often than not the changes are marked. for me, the 29th year brought with it a much greater sense of certainty and contentedness than i’d experienced to that point. and its tail has been stronger, making the last few years greater solidification of my identity and commitment to the things that are important.

saturn on here plods a bit like it’s taking a while to reach some conclusion. it arrives with bizarre clanging, very melodramatic. then, as though it had perhaps become aware of itself rushing, slows down again. it knows what it is. it’s a remarkable summary of the purported effect of saturn itself.

uranus, a bit like mercury, comes across as a frivolous character without much depth to begin with. it sounds like a young man dancing intoxicated, and perhaps ultimately stacking it or knocking over someone’s drink. then coming to the realisation that he should be more than he is (a bit depressed, angry, self-conscious).

and so it ends with neptune. is it water-like? well it does feel like one is submerged. not in a frightening way at all – far more calm and reassuring. after the neuroses of most of the other planets, neptune comes across as the voice of reason. not beset with doubt, malice, authority or sugar-coated hyperactivity. it is revelatory.

so how can such meaning be imbued upon physical entities? how can music invoke their mythological and astrological beings? how does it relate, if at all, to those immense masses sitting like us out in space? why indeed was earth not included? honestly, i don’t think there are genuine logical or objective answers to these questions. the planets makes one of the greatest cases for music that can be universally loved and known, and that allows listeners to see their own interpreted images with amazing clarity.

this is the beauty of all great music.

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