One of my favorite pieces of classical music is “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. Here’s my story on that: I was a fan of the Japanese musician Isao Tomita, and I bought his “The Planets” record way back in 1976 when I was just an impressionable teenager. I was listening to a lot of synthesizer music back at the time. Otherwise, I was not educated enough to know the first thing about Holst.
Much later in life, I bought a CD of Planets by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Recently I started a playlist of several different symphonic versions. Indeed, There are a lot of good ones to choose from all over YouTube … but I will share this recent one with you today. This is from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, recorded live at the Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, on November 8th 2019.
I love it of course! The Planets is kind of like a “concept album” that a rock group might make. Each part, or “movement” is a musical description of each planet. Let me also share with you, this gallery of “The Planets” album covers. Do you own any of these?
Before I proceed much farther, I also want to share this video from YT user Classics Explained. His video is a whimsical history about how Holst came to write “The Planets”. CE vividly and accurately describes how each movement relates to each planet musically.
This music history got me thinking about the ORDER of the planets in the symphony. The order of Host’s planets are Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This order does not seem to make sense at first — and where is Earth, anyway? If one were to navigate in a space craft, and view and explore Mars (the fourth planet in our solar system) first, then how or why would one go back to Venus (the second planet) next? The order should be: Mercury, Venus, (Earth), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Part of the wrong order of the planets may have to do with the order that Holst wrote the movements. He wrote “Mars: The Bringer of War” first, and “Mercury: The Winged Messenger” was written last.
So … what ever was the flight plan through “The Planets” by Gustav Holst? The only way I can excuse the order when I listen now, is to envision this travel plan scenario:
Our craft zips from Earth out to Mars first. Modern planetary explorers are in a hurry to explore and colonize Mars, so it does not surprise me that the planet is explored first. Our craft circles Mars, but not before dropping two surface probe-droids — which land, then drive around Mars to measure, dig and modify the Martian surface. The two land probes may even be in competition with each other, and may even have “wargames” at the surface. Our spaceship uses the gravity of Mars to fling our craft back to the other side … the inner side … of the solar system. We will use a GRAVITY ASSIST – similar to how the Cassini spacecraft used the gravity slingshot technique to zip around Earth twice to get to Saturn.
Our ship will need more speed to travel the outer solar system, so our spaceship next flies AROUND Venus. (The surface is too hot to land anyway.) The path around Venus gives it a gravity boost – and propels it rapidly to Mercury, where our craft picks up even more speed through the fastest planet’s gravity.
After that gravity boost, our ship begins the long journey to the outer solar system, eventually graduating to the pull of Jupiter. At this point, our journey is in the correct order. We get flung around Jupiter and voyage out to Saturn where after a dance there, we are flung out to Uranus, then finally Neptune.
Oh — I forgot to tell you – our craft does not go back to Earth. I probably should have said something. We keep going as the music to “Neptune” fades. Oh Ok … OK … if you really, really need to go back, listen to “Space Trucking” by Deep Purple for a straight path back. DP song linked here. Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah … the freaks said: man those cats can really swing! And yes, Bob, I digress once again.
Do you know what would have been a hoot? if Host had wrote music for Earth, or perhaps even Earth’s moon – Luna. Why not a special movement for the Asteroid Belt? There was no planet Pluto at the time Host wrote, so we cannot blame him for not including it.
Starlight: Forty-four light years it has been! Do you have a favorite “Planets” album? Please share with me in the Comments!