The Planets by Gustav Holst
Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite is a very cinematic-sounding piece, with each movement very different from the last, and it has inspired many film scores, particularly those about space movies.
1. Mars, the Bringer of War - if this sounds familiar, it’s because John Williams borrowed some of this for Star Wars. The skeletal sounding effect in the opening is col legno, a technique where the stick of the bow of a stringed instrument is bounced along the string. This movement has the feel of an army steadily approaching, or like a great warship moving through space. Clashes between different groups of instruments represent battles between opposing forces.
2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace - this movement is tranquil, lyrical, longing, and romantic. This is the sunlight that comes through the clouds after a battle in the rain, this is the sense of calm that envelops you after taking a deep breath.
3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger - the bubbling notes seem to take flight, just like Mercury does with aid of his winged sandals. This is light and quick, and the melody jumps from instrument to instrument as fast as Mercury can flit from place to place.
4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity - this movement opens bright, vivacious, active, and very triumphant, like a proclamation of victory. The effervescent section transitions into a sweeping melody at 2:50, which you will probably recognize, as it has been adapted for various hymns and is the melody for “I Vow to Thee, My Country.”
5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age - the steady chords most prominently starting around 4:25 are like the hands of an enormous clock, and the later dissonant faster chords are like alarms - this movement represents the inevitable power of Father Time.
6. Uranus, the Magician - this is the realm of the trickster, the cunning, the powerful yet unknown. A certain magical - yet not necessarily entirely benevolent - quality pervades the movement. This character has influenced the portrayal of magic in film scores such as Harry Potter.
7. Neptune, the Mystic - this movement has an otherworldly quality to it – one which has informed how the mysteries of space are represented in film scores today. Is this happy? Is this sad? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact emotion, and that is what makes Neptune so distinct. Additionally, this is one of the first pieces to have a fade out ending, with the sound of the women’s chorus gradually diminishing into silence.