Gustav Holst: The Planets

I am very excited to be conducting Holst’s The Planets once again – this time with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra on November 10. The project involves a new film commissioned by the PSO and created by the young, award-winning filmmaker Max Fedore and me. The project has given me an opportunity to look at Holst’s work anew, and to consider, and reconsider, what he was trying to capture in composing this piece.


When Gustav Holst composed The Planets in the early part of the 20th Century, space exploration was still confined to earthly observation from telescopes, conjecture, and only the imaginings of scientific discovery. Indeed, powered flight itself was in its infancy, and many frontiers on our own planet remained to be explored – Mount Everest, the deepest oceans, and the wilds of far away continents. Technology too was beginning its uneasy relationship alongside man as the wonder and promise of scientific and engineering advancement grated against the horrors and disappointment of new warfare and disasters like the Titanic. The explorer’s spirit was still there, however, led as usual by authors, artists, and musicians whose centuries of creativity inspired explorers and whose imagination was fueled by the exploration and scientific discoveries of their day. It is in this world that Holst conceived The Planets. Imagine the young composer growing up amidst the futuristic writings of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Mary Shelley as science and fiction melded to create an inspiring literary genre.


Holst’s The Planets is steeped in the ancient mythology, mystery, and science regarding those heavenly bodies and our relationship to them. Holst himself called this work “a series of mood pictures,” and it is with his inspiration that Max Fedore and I set about to create a visual accompaniment to this fantastic music. We wanted to encapsulate the intimate connection between the imagination’s ability to create realities out of observation and ambiguity (spiritual, physical, and fictional realities) and our insatiable desire to know – to go to these places one day and “see for ourselves.”


So, the film you will experience is about much more than science. It is about those mythological figures Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune. It is about great writers and great minds inspired by the heavens. It strives to create for you a “mood picture” or, if you will, a reflective state that blends your artistic, literary, and scientific sides into one ineffable whole. And it is not just a planetary journey, but a life journey – a kind of allegory of our own travels forward through time in search of ourselves.


The music will inspire you. The Planets is Holst’s most enduring work, loved by almost everyone who has heard it. He was both a conservative and an innovator. He was intrigued with many musical styles and developments from the music of Debussy and Stravinsky to the revolutionary Schoenberg. You will find his influence in science fiction film sound tracks and video games to this day. If George Tucker’s 1827 novel A Voyage to the Moon is considered the first American science fiction novel, Holst’s Planets could be considered the first science fiction composition.


The Peoria Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a wonderful film to accompany some wonderful music in celebration of our new museum, which will inspire the creativity, imagination, and exploring spirit of generations to come.


Here’s a sneak peak:

For more information about the concert, click here.


Reading List of 19th- and Early 20th-Century Science Fiction Novels

  • Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville:  Le Dernier Homme (1805)
  • Félix Bodin:  Le Roman de l’Avenir (1834)
  • Emile Souvestre: Le Monde Tel Qu’il Sera (1846)
  • Jane C. Loudon: The Mummy!: A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1836) – Reincarnation and Advanced Technology
  • C.I. Defontenay: Star ou Psi de Cassiopée (1854) – Alien Civilizations
  • Camille Flammarion: La Pluralité des Mondes Habités (1862) – Extraterrestrial Life.
  • Edgar Allan Poe: The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal (1835) – Moon Exploration
  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
  • H.G. Wells: The Time Machine (1865)
  • H.G. Wells: War of the Worlds (1898)
  • Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon (1865)
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