Gustav Holst: The Planets Op. 32
- Mars, the Bringer of War- Venus, the Bringer of Peace- Mercury, the Winged Messenger- Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity- Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age- Uranus, the Magician- Neptune, the Mystic.
In March of 1913, Holst received an anonymous gift which enabled him to travel to Spain with Clifford Bax, the brother of the composer Arnold Bax (and later the librettist for Holst's opera The Wandering Scholar). Clifford Bax was an astrologer, and he and Holst became good friends, with Bax introducing him to the concepts of astrology.
Perhaps due to this friendship, Holst began to rediscover his childhood intrigue with theosophy. He had a book in his library called, "The Art of Synthesis," by Alan Leo. Leo was himself an astrologer and Theosophist who published various books on astrology. Alan Leo divided his book into chapters based on each planet, and described the astrological characteristics of them. In fact, "Neptune, the Mystic," is given the same title in both the book and the suite! Holst may have been introduced to Leo by George Mead, a Sanskrit scholar and a fellow member, along with Holst, of the Royal Asiatic Society. Mead and Leo were friends.
Holst called his piece "a series of mood pictures." He seemed to consider The Planets a progression of life. "Mars" perhaps serves as a rocky and tormenting beginning; it was written in 1914, and clearly forecasts the upcoming devastation of World War I. In contrast, the gentle restrains of "Venus" seems to provide an answer to "Mars" and the concept of Venus as "the bringer of peace" helps aid that claim. "Mercury" and its delightfully quick movements can be thought of as the messenger between our world and the other worlds. Perhaps "Jupiter" and its optimistic nature represents the "prime" of life, even with the overplayed central melody, which was later arranged to the words of "I vow to thee, my country."