week24: holst


These pieces were suggested by the astrological significance of the planets; there is no programme music in them, neither have they any connection with the deities of classical mythology bearing the same name. If any guide to the music is required the sub-title to each piece will be found sufficient, especially it if be used in a broad sense. For instance, Jupiter brings jollity in the ordinary sense, and also the more ceremonial type of rejoicing associated with religious or national festivities. Saturn brings not only physical decay, but also a vision of fulfillment. Mercury is the symbol o mind. “” gustav holst, statement to the london press—1920

that is yet another liberty granted by the artistic experience in general—and music in particular: one can take an artwork seriously despite simultaneous inability to entertain the slightest temptation of seriousness in its subject. nowadays it seems ain’t nobody got time for that aristotelian misspeak about the mark of education being one’s ability to ‘entertain an idea without accepting it’. we of present just do not feel the same. education has not only lost its entertainment, but also that ‘oxford manner’ described by oscar wilde as the ability to ‘play gracefully with ideas’. art still remains the exception for the sincere audience, the matrix and mediums within which we can still slow down our accelerating velocities of being—‘suspending judgement’—if only to award the artist an opportunity to express a truth deeper than the demands of fastidious logic and higher than the latest, trendiest, fastest call to action.

a slower metabolism as relates to current events, aiming for a longer trajectory in the arc of our moral universe—among others, are the chief rewards of a quotidian diet of artistic experiences.

as such it’s easier to suspend judgment when the music is this good. i am almost otherwise incapable of hearing anything that comes after the introduction of horoscopes as a topic of conversation—and no surer way to instigate the end of a Tinder date than by embarking on such a route—yet, what would music be without the mythical element? though i must add right away that although every healthy culture and its cultivation stands in need of the power of myth, the opposite must be said of mysticism—and astrology falls more into the latter. and these tone poems by holst would have evaded the criticism of cheap entertainment if he had decided against neglecting the associated deities of classical mythology.

nevertheless the work reaches gargantuan proportions with an orchestra of over 100 players serenading 7 planets—pluto was yet to be discovered and earth, interestingly, is not as popular a subject as the rest of the astrological field—and such anomalous sights in the orchestra as the tenor tuba, alto flute and organ.

the exploration began with Mars, subtitled by holst as the Bringer of War and is introduced with a crashing avalanche of sound from the orchestra’s full gale force. it is met thereafter with the frailty of the solo violin and its contradistinctive tone against the machinery of timpanis in the earlier Mars section. the orchestra’s largesse is employed again in Jupiter section with it’s busy leapings akin to an orchestral gagliarda, or to benjamin britten’s Sunday Morning from his Four Sea Interludes. The penultimate piece has uranus as its subject, and i’d sure be goddamned if holst didn’t begin that section on a blast of horns…



ABC Records Recording. Printed in the U.S.A. // Gustav Holst (1874-1934) // The Planets

The Vienna State Opera Orchestra & Academy Chorus, conducted by Adrian Boult

The Planets

  1. Mars, the Bringer of War

  2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace

  3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger

  4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (beginning)

  5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age

  6. Uranus, the Magician

  7. Neptune, the Mystic

(on music and the eternal)———

‘Hymn’ by Angel Ramiro Sanchez, 2016

‘Hymn’ by Angel Ramiro Sanchez, 2016

The apotheosis, such as it is, is contained in Neptune, The Mystic. The music provides no answers; it only asks questions. Everything is pianissimo, and we stand at the shore of infinite waters as if to inquire of the horizon: Whence? Whither? Why? The music grows more and more faint and at length the choir is beyond our ears. The impression lingers that they were still singing when last we could hear them, and always have been, and always will, because the song has no end. “” notes for the recording

though it was by accident that this composition followed strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, i cannot imagine a more befitting piece to follow week23. whereas strauss’ tone poems were, at its core, an exploration of the galactic scope of internal space, holst could not have been more explicit of his mission to de-emphasize any connoting programmatic references to anything other than the astrological significance of the planets involved. significance which is, however convoluted, entirely inspired by the real or imagined features of actual celestial bodies.  

because the song has no end’---that has always been for me the significance of dissonance in music: it’s reverberations echo farther into eternity… by that i’m reminded of the interplay between the length and trajectory of a song and the fulfillment of its mission by a riddle design specifically for this purpose:

Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal; and yet: if a melody has not reached its end, it has not reached its goal. A parable. “” Friedrich Nietzsche, TSZ--The Wanderer and His Shadow

and to underline the influence that the contemplation of the concept of the eternal has upon the fluctuations of our psyche, none better than aldous huxley’s ruminations should be employed:

Insofar as it helps the individual to forget himself and his ready-made opinions about the universe, religion will prepare the way for realization. Insofar as it arouses and justifies such passions as fear, scrupulosity, righteous indignation, institutional patriotism and crusading hate, insofar as it harps on the saving virtues of certain theological notions, certain hallowed arrangements of words, religion is an obstacle in the way of realization. [...] The completely liberating and enlightening experience is that of the eternal in time, the non-dual in multiplicity. “” aldous huxley, The Devils of Loudun

it is indeed the track of time, and the hurdles of timing, that make possible the phenomena of the musical experience… music is therefore, of the arts, the shortest pathway to the ‘eternal in time’ …