You guys see that right there? That giant orb? That is PLUTO. No, not Mickey's pet. The dwarf planet. Now, before you get all in a fuss about how "PLUTO IS STILL A REAL PLANET", go read this article that Fraser Cane wrote on the matter. There's even an informative video in case you're one of those people who sees a long article and doesn't want to read it. 

 

In celebration of New Horizons making its way to Pluto and beyond this morning, I think it would be a good time to talk about The Planets by Gustav Holst. You might be wondering who our new friend Gustav Holst is. I'M GLAD YOU ASKED. Gustav is this guy right here. Gustav Holst was an English composer. He lived from 1874-1934; born and raised in England. His most popular work is the one that we're actually going to talk about today -- The Planets.

 

Gustav Holst's The Planets is a multi-movement piece for orchestra. It was written between the years of 1914-1916. The inspiration came from a friendship that Holst had with an astrologer by the name of Clifford Bax, which is believed to have sparked an old fire that Holst had for astrology and theosophy as a child. There is  a book that Holst had called "The Art of Synthesis" in which the structure for The Planets can be found.

There are only seven movements to the piece because he did not write one for Earth, and Pluto wasn't even discovered until 1930 by Cylde Tombaugh. (If you read the article I linked earlier, you would already know that, wouldn't you?) Anyways, the seven movement go like this:

  1. Mars -- the Bringer of War
  2. Venus -- the Bringer of Peace
  3. Mercury -- the Winged Messenger
  4. Jupiter -- the Bringer of Jollity
  5. Saturn -- the Bringer of Old Age
  6. Uranus -- the Magician
  7. Neptune -- the Mystic

Some of you may actually recognize one piece in particular, and that would be the first movement, Mars. Go ahead. I put it right above these words. Give it a listen. Specifically the rhythmic/harmonic section at the very beginning and the extremely amazing ending portion of the movement, do they sounds familiar? They should. If not, then you have been living a lie your entire life, because this is the piece that John Williams used as inspiration for The Imperial March in the Star Wars film series. Give The Imperial March a listen as well, and you will hear ALL of the similarities. You can also hear the similarities of Mars in the piece that Williams composed/is being used in this trailer for the upcoming DICE game, Star Wars Battlefront (WHICH I AM SO EXCITED FOR I CANNOT WAIT).

Now, this whole topic was started by my being super excited about the fact that New Horizons was able to take high-res, close up pictures with the #PlutoFlyby. "But none of the movements are about Pluto! You said that yourself!" Yes, none of the original movements are about Pluto. That is correct. However, in 2000, a composer by the name of Collin Matthews was commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra to write an 8th movement to the piece, which would later be called Pluto, The Renewer. You see? I was getting to that. It's called build up for a reason.

BONUS CONTENT -- For those of you who don't know me, I am a HUGE fan of Leonard Bernstein. He's one of my heroes. This guy? Oh, yeah. He was one of the greatest musicians/conductors/educators/human beings to ever live. He put his entire being into every performance he ever conducted. This image is taken from when he conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection", with the London Symphony Orchestra.  Anyways, in Bernstein's 1972 final broadcast of his Young People's Concerts, he conducted the New York Philharmonic performing The Planets, minus Saturn -- the Bringer of Old Age, and they ended the show with an improvised performance of what is known as Pluto, the Unpredictable.

To wrap everything up, I would encourage everyone to give The Planets a listen to celebrate the discoveries and new information we have of the dwarf planet, Pluto. When it comes to orchestral music, you always have to ask yourself the question "What performance should I listen to?", and that is a great question to ask. There's a great essay by Jean-Paul Sartre on music, performances, and whether or not Beethoven's 7th Symphony actually exists, but that's a conversation for another day. For now, I would recommend the recording that the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra made of the Planets with Rundfunkchor Berlin(I think also known as Berlin Radio Choir? It's basically Berlin's Choir), and conductor Sir Simon Rattle. If you have started using Apple Music, then you can go listen to it here. If you prefer to use Spotify, then you can check the album out here.

Until next time, I leave you with the excitement of a little child, because that's what I feel every time new discoveries are made.

-Chadwick

 

References:

Universe Today

Gustav Holst

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