San Angelo Symphony to Tackle Holst’s The Planets on Nov. 5


SAN ANGELO, TX — The San Angelo Symphony recognizes Mr. J. Mark McLaughlin as the title sponsor of its season opening concert, The Planets, and Mr. Don and Mrs. Bette Allison as the guest artist and chorus sponsors.

In this multimedia production, the San Angelo Symphony performs Gustav Holst’s The Planets as images provided by Dr. Kenneth Carrell, Director of the ASU Planetarium, are presented on a giant screen above the orchestra.

Gustav Holst composed The Planets as his 32nd music score between 1914 and 1917 as the world was rushing into World War I. The movements are named after the planets of our solar system. The first of seven movements is titled "Mars, the Bringer of War," opening with a fast-paced and relentless representation of mechanized warfare that is heavy on loud brass and percussion.

"Venus, the Bringer of Peace" follows with a slow, beautiful and melodic French Horn solo in the tradition of the romantic symphonies written during this era (See Howard Hanson's 2nd Symphony, for example). Holst's challenge with Venus was to create a credible answer to war and Mars. He fades from the Horn to use an Oboe to carry forth the "peace" with a full-bodied string accompaniment. The Horn re-emerges later in the movement, if only briefly, to reassert its agreement with the Oboe and strings before fading away with no tension.

Movement three, "Mercury, The Winged Messenger" was composed last of the seven movements. The movement is generally light and fast-paced but at times atonally sinister. It introduced several nuanced musical elements seldom used in the early 20th Century until Planets. Called "polytonality," Holst overlapped melodies from two different keys foreshadowing nihilistic atonal melodies written by younger composers in the 1970s and early 1980s. Mercury is a reset for the audience, clearing the hearing palate for the new melody to be introduced in the forth movement about Jupiter.

Movement four, "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" follows the sometimes disjointed "Mercury" to assert a new melody. It offers occasional revisits to atonal clashes with the melody to remind the listener that although the movement is about "jollity" there remains some tension in the air. The movement ends with a grand finale, complete with syncopated percussion behind soaring brass.

The Planets - IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity - Gustav Holst Susanna Mälkki, Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra, The Proms 2015, Royal Albert Hall, London on July 27, 2015

Below, A flashmob of Gustav Holst's "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from The Planets by the Berklee Contemporary Symphonic Orchestra (BCSO) at Prudential Center in Boston, Mass. in 2016. The musicians were performing only a portion of Jupiter.

A flashmob of Gustav Holst's "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from The Planets by the Berklee Contemporary Symphonic Orchestra (BCSO) at Prudential Center.

Holst told the press back in the day that movement five, "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age," was his favorite of the seven movements. The composer was a trombonist and the trombone has a leading role in introducing the melodic idea. The movement opens with flutes, bassoons and harp atop a lightly pounding tympani or bass resembling a ticking clock. After exploring its ideas, the movement fades away to nothing, just like growing old.

"Uranus, The Magician," movement six, will awaken the listener who was only moments before put to sleep (or death) by Saturn. Ironically, the first performance of The Planets in England in 1919 omitted movements six and seven. The original audience's final sound from The Planets' was Saturn's death... from old age.

The final movement, "Neptune, The Mystic" incorporates the choir, but the use of the choir is not like what most people expect. The choir is off stage and doesn't sing one word. It sounds mystical, as the title of the movement tells us, and it concludes The Planets with the voices of the off-stage choir dimming their volume into silence.

In all, The Planets is a 50-minute performance and for modern audiences it doesn't have an expected outsized hook, or melody, that most listeners today will recognize. This doesn't diminish the importance of the composition, however. The Holst Foundation actually sued the composer of the soundtrack for the movie The Gladiator (starring Russell Crowe), Hans Zimmer, in 2006 for ripping off "Mars" for his movie's score. The lawsuit filed in Great Britain just before the copyright expired was settled out of court. Some have suggested that composer John Williams was heavily influenced by The Planets when we composed the Music of Star Wars.

Below is the original "Mars, The Bringer of War" and below that is the comparison of the soundtrack from the movie "The Gladiator" to "Mars." Can you hear the similarities?

Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in "Mars" from Gustav Holst's The Planets. Recorded August 8, 2017, at the Hollywood Bowl.
A brief summary of the similarities between Mars, Bringer of War by Gustav Holst and the Gladiator Waltz from the movie Gladiator (music by Hans Zimmer).

Those familiar with The Planets may wonder why Holst didn't compose movement eight for the planet Pluto. The planet farthest from the Sun wasn't discovered until 1930, about 15 years after Holst composed The Planets. In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as just a "dwarf planet" perhaps making it unworthy of having its own movement anyway.

The symphony stated that Robert Stovall will lead the Symphony’s All- Female Chorus that will provide the eery ending to The Planets.

Also performing is concert pianist, Daniel del Pino, who will perform alongside the orchestra Edward Greig’s Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra.

The San Angelo Symphony will also open its final rehearsal to area students for Know the Score on Saturday, November 5, 2022, from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Murphey Performance Hall. Know the Score provides attendees the unique opportunity to observe a professional ensemble rehearse and interact with both Maestro Guzman and select musicians from the orchestra. The free come-and-go event is open to the public, but the symphony encourages those planning to attend to make a reservation by visiting the website or calling (325) 658-5877.

Single tickets for the Symphony’s opening concert, The Planets, are on sale now and can be purchased online ( by phone, or at the Symphony office located in City Hall at 72 W. College Avenue on the West Mezzanine. Tickets range in price from $20 to $35.

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Ah yes. Uranus. Magical. Wily. Unpredictable. I could set up my telescope in a quiet, clandestine spot and gaze up at Uranus all night. Gaseous? Yes. But large - and captivating. Who knows what it would be like to actually get close enough to be enveloped by its majesty.

That would be quite the story to tell...

Fun Fact: Our spelling for the planet Uranus, (named after the god,) is taken from the Latin, language of the warlike Romans - but the the same was called Ouranos by the civilized Greeks...

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