program notes by composition > M > Mars, from “The Planets”

Mars, from “The Planets”

Gustav Holst

The Planets is an orchestral suite -- what composer Gustav Holst called, “a series of mood pictures” -- where each movement depicts one planet. The suite contains seven movements: although eight planets were known to exist (Pluto had not yet been discovered, much less demoted), Earth is at the center in the astrological scheme.

Mars, The Bringer of War , emphasizes brass and low brass in 5/4 rhythm. Blatant dissonance and the unconventional meter suggest the influence of Stravinsky. "The most ferocious piece of music in existence" evokes a battle scene of immense proportion. Holst directed that it be played slightly faster than a regular march, giving it a mechanized and inhuman character.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a classical British composer. Born into a musical family, he played piano and violin, and began composing when he was about twelve. He served as a church organist and choirmaster. When neuritis in his right hand forced him away from the organ he took up the trombone and succeeded as an orchestral musician. Holst was influenced by socialism, and attended lectures by George Bernard Shaw with whom he shared a passion for vegetarianism. He became deeply interested in Hindu philosophy and learned Sanskrit. He dabbled in astrology, and read astrological fortunes until his death. He was appointed Director of Music at St. Paul's Girls School in Hammersmith. He became interested in old English folksongs and Tudor composers. Holst's compositions for wind band guaranteed him a position as the medium's cornerstone, as seen in the many present-day programs featuring his two Suites for Military Band .

Last updated on March 6, 2020 by Palatine Concert Band