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The Planets: Mars, the Bringer of War - by Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

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Published on Mar 7, 2012

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This is a powerful, but underrated performance of The Planets from a stalwart of British music, Sir Charles Groves, conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I have many versions of The Planets, including the much lauded interpretation from Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. However, I keep going back to this version. It feels, well, like Holst :-)

I could wax lyrical about the power of these seven mini tone poems, but I shall let a far more eloquent writer speak. The following is taken from the CD notes of a special Penguin Classics release of 'The Planets', performed by Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The essay was written by Karen Armstrong, author of 'A History of God', 'Through the Narrow Gate' and 'A History of Jerusalem'....

"On 20 July 1969, glued to my television set, I watched the historic moon-landing with awe and a certain disquiet. As my namesake, Neil Armstrong, made that "great leap for mankind", I marvelled at the technology that had got him there but also wondered what this would do for human consciousness. The moon, symbol of love, transience and rebirth, was now revealed as a dull, sterile place. While the astronauts loped and gambolled on its dusty surface, I reflected uneasily that we had just turned mythology into fact and found the reality to be banal. Would we be permanently impoverished?

But the moon-landing also reflected my own recent experience of a world turned upside down. Only a few months earlier, I had left the religious order where I had lived as a nun for seven years. The world outside the convent walls seemed as alien and spiritually barren to me as the moon. I was already beginning a painful journey away from the religion I had grown up with and feared that I would not easily survive in a world drained of mystery and transcendence.

It was about this time, however, that I first heard The Planets and it helped put me on the road to a new spirituality. Freed from the restrictions of convent life, I was beginning in 1969 to discover music and to find that it could give me those transcendent moments I had sought in vain in conventional religion. But, a student of literature and in love with words, I sometimes found it difficult to respond to this non-verbal art form, which, like the higher forms of spirituality, goes beyond images and ideas. The Planets helped me to make that transition by providing me with a "musical plot", which, at that early stage of my musical education, I sorely needed.

I found that reaching out imaginatively to the cosmos, Holst had somehow retraced the archetypal religious quest. We begin with the slightly self-important, combative melodies of Mars, with an ego fighting to assert itself, before proceeding to the peace of Venus, where the occasional discords remind us that serenity is only a precarious achievement on this planet. Next we encounter the more playful moods of Mercury and Jupiter which are only possible -- like the best religion -- when we have left the self behind. In Saturn and Uranus, Holst makes us confront mortality and the uncanny, before he finishes with the mystic Neptune, where the music hints at a realm beyond form and melody -- the dark world of "uncreated reality".

And through it all, meanwhile, Holst's music restores for me that feeling of wonder and emotional connection that the cosmos has always inspired in men and women. It is still possible after all to sense a deep involvement for the stars and planets in our own earthbound destiny -- a mystery that seems not to have vanished, as I feared it might, with that first walk on the moon back in 1969."


Buy the CD of Sir Charles Groves conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra here...
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holst-Planets...

The essay comes from the Penguin release of Charles Dutoit conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, now out of print, but imports are still available...
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holst-Planets...

Dutoit's performance is still available in a more recent release...
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holst-Planets...

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