Holst - The Planets

Written by Eric Rasmussen on August 30, 2010.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by James Levine

Conducted by James Levine

One of my aims in writing about classical music is to raise awareness for a cause that is very dear to my heart. The market is so flooded with “relaxing” compilations that even those of us who enjoy the occasional classical piece are led to believe it’s a rather dull form of music, fit only for background noise. To address this growing apathy in the most direct way possible, I launched The Foundation For Teaching People That Classical Music Is Not Background Noise.

As I’m the only current member, having founded the organization approximately four and a half minutes ago, I can only say that I one day hope to offer t-shirts of Listz’s piano catching fire as he blazes through Mephisto, Paganini with devil horns rocking his violin to an astonished audience, and bumper stickers that say “Bach Rocks Your Organ”*.

After getting past my own initial apathy towards classical music many years ago, I began to realize how much depth, emotion, and vigor I had missed. A prime candidate for furthering my cause is Holst, whose music can engage even the most listless of listeners. Holst’s journey through our solar system opens with Mars, The Bringer of War, as the percussionists hammer out an unstoppable 5-beat pattern that relentlessly drives on until it reaches an incredible climax backed by the full strength of the orchestra. The Planets suite continues to captivate as it spans the quiet but meaningful ambience of Saturn and Venus, the mirthful Mercury, the enigmatic Neptune and Uranus, and the triumph and levity of Jupiter.

Of the limited Holst recordings I have heard, I’m most fond of James Levine’s energetic conducting and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s beautiful performance, bringing out the full range of emotions but keeping a coherent tone throughout. I highly recommend obtaining one of the recordings (a wide variety of which are available at ArkivMusic) or seeing the work performed live, which made for one of my own most memorable concert-going experiences.

*Future bumper sticker and t-shirt slogan “Bach Rocks Your Organ” is TM Chromatic Leaves 2010, All Rights Reserved, in case you were thinking of beating me to the punch. The FFTPTCMINBN will prevail!

Tagged: music, romantic-era, symphony