Montgomery Philharmonic 2016 - 17

Our 11th Season – Inspired by…

Concert 4, Sunday, March 26, 2017 – Inspired by Nature

About Gustav Holst
Like his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst played a major role in the sound of English music. His music was shaped by folk songs, madrigals, and church music, and he, in turn, shaped educational music in England. Unlike Vaughan Williams, Holst had a need to explore a musical language that was less limited and more flexible than what the English folk-song school of music had to offer.
Holst studied composition at the Royal College of Music under Sir Charles Villiers Sanford. Holst’s lessons with Stanford were contentious because Stanford felt that Holst was not a brilliant student. Holst, on the other hand, felt that Stanford’s method of teaching was too restrictive. He found inspiration in the music of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Grieg, Wagner, and Stravinsky, and also in Hindu literature. Places that he visited also had impact on his music. When he traveled to Algeria, he wrote
Beni Mora, a piece that incorporated music that he heard on the Algerian streets. While on a trip to Spain, Holst was introduced to astrology. Holst’s interest in astrology lead him to write his most famous piece, The Planets. This piece made Holst in demand as a composition teacher, conductor, recording artist (he played the trombone), and music teacher at St. Paul’s Girls’ School. This popularity took a toll on his health, however, and in 1924, his doctor ordered him to cancel all of his professional engagements and live in the country to compose. Holst returned to London in 1925 and gave up all teaching except at St. Paul’s Girls’ School. Having extra time to compose led to some of his best work, yet none of his later works were as popular as The Planets.

  • Born: September 21, 1874, Cheltenham, England
  • Died: May 25, 1934, London, England
  • Compositions: 8 operas, 4 ballets, incidental music to 13 plays, 1 film score, 26 orchestral pieces (including suites, intermezzi, rhapsodies and 1 symphony), 7 band pieces, 5 concerti, 21 chamber works for various instrument combinations, 12 works for keyboard, 54 work works for voice and piano, including several song cycles, 115 choral works
  • Parents: Adolph von Holst and Clara Cox (both were musicians)
  • Children: Imogen, daughter
The Planets, excerpts (1914–1916) – Gustav Holst (1874–1934)
Gustav Holst was introduced to astrology by fellow traveler and author Arnold Bax while on a trip to Spain. Soon after the trip, Holst wrote to a friend, “…recently the character of each planet suggested lots to me, and I have been studying astrology fairly closely.” Holst decided to write music that depicted the astrological character of each planet. This astrological character had nothing to do with the popular mythological character of each planet. Holst composed seven movements illustrating each planet in our solar system; Earth was omitted intentionally and Pluto had not yet been discovered. The work took two years to complete, most of which was composed in his rural cottage. Holst took two years because he feared that no orchestra would play a work that had been set for such a large orchestra. Schoenberg and Stravinsky each made visits to London, causing quite a stir. The impact of these visits is clear in The Planets, through harmonies, melodic material, and orchestration.
Mars, Bringer of War is a hard-driving movement that pounds out harsh blocks of sound portraying the cold brutality of war. Venus, the Bringer of Peace opens with a French horn solo and throughout the movement the listener hears calm and tranquility scored in pastel colors. Mercury, the Winged Messenger is all about speed. The strings and woodwinds are put through their paces with transparent themes. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity shows its hand through grounded and happy melodies that reflect Holst’s study of folk music. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age makes audience members feel as if they are again in the midst of the concert. It was Holst’s favorite because he felt that it communicated the most emotional depth. Uranus, the Magician uses brilliant orchestration to show the magician at work. The brass casts the magical spell and the bassoons are the first to respond to the spell. The orchestra uses all of its forces to create a dramatic and grotesque tableaux. The work concludes with even larger forces. Holst uses a women’s chorus to depict the diaphanous Neptune, the Mystic. Unlike many of the pieces composed at the time The Planets was written, Holst chooses to finish this monumental work by fading into silent infinity.
Sir Adrian Bolt conducted the premiere on September 29, 1918, in London in front of an invited audience of 300 people. The first complete public performance was given at Queen’s Hall in 1920, conducted by Albert Coates.


Instrumentation – Four flutes (3rd doubling piccolo and 4th doubling piccolo and alto flute), 3 oboes (3rd doubling bass oboe), English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contra bassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, euphonium, tuba, 6 timpani (2 players), bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, tambourine, glockenspiel, xylophone, chimes, celesta, organ, 2 harps, strings