The Planets
Gustav Holst


Listen to this piece at now

Holst's best-known work gets its highest ever chart position, at Number 12

It's probably an often made point, but it's worth making again: Holst's The Planets is not about the planets. That is, it's not about astronomy. Rather, it's about astrology. So we are not hearing a suite of tributes to, say, Saturn, the planet with rings around it. Instead Holst is writing about Mars, the bringer of war; Venus, the bringer of peace; Mercury, the winged messenger; Saturn the bringer of old age; Uranus, the magician; and Neptune, the mystic.

'Jupiter', arguably the most famous and most popular movement of Holst's magnificent suite, is the bringer of jollity. Holst's piece then has no thunderbolts to hurtle down on us nor war to wage. Instead it is a joyous and stirring rump of great tunes. The vigorous and jovial opening melodies soon give way to a stately rendition of a tune that is better known as the hymn 'I vow to thee my country', a patriotic number that Elgar could have easily conjured up.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (1889).