On first hearing The Planets by Gustav Holst

Of all the music created by Gustav Holst, Mars, the Bringer of War was the most terrifying to my young ears. The first time I heard it was in a music lesson at school, in which we had to work out the planet for each of the seven pieces, and I sensed darkness, drama and a kind of urgency, particularly in the Morse-code-like punctuation and the strident brass. I envisioned the red planet, a fiery orb in the solar system, Martians arriving in thousands of spaceships, marching across fields and through streets, fire and brimstone raining from above.

The piece is a march, a strange and powerful one, which reflects the mood of the time in which it was written, its first performance being in September 1918. But as a rock fan, I was completely taken by the various interpretations of Mars by bands such as King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Powell, Diamond Head and Black Sabbath.

cacophonous March
rocking out in my bedroom
red planet of war

Kim M. Russell, 2nd March 2020

My response to dVerse Poets Pub Haibun Monday: Mars

Frank is our host this first Monday in March and we’re talking about red-faced Mars or Martius, the first month of the earliest Roman calendar, named after Mars, the Roman god of war, an ancestor of the Roman people through his sons Romulus and Remus.

Frank says that Mars has captured our scientific and cultural attention since ancient times and some poets have found inspiration in the Red Planet; he shares examples of poems by Wyn Cooper and Longfellow.

Whether it’s the God of War or the Red Planet, we are writing haibun that allude to Mars.

28 thoughts on “On first hearing The Planets by Gustav Holst

  1. I had not heard about the pieces by Gustav Holst, but I can clearly understand that anything written on the war in 1918 had to be terrifying… the influence between classical music and rock music is something that I have sometimes felt when it’s obvious and sometimes it has taken me years to realize it.
    Now I notice it more and more whenever I go to a concert. I need to listen to Holst.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember when I was about eleven, I fell in love with Tchaikovsky, but when I started GCE Music, everything blew him out of the water, especially Holst!


      1. That’s one step ahead of me! It’s the kind of thing I did with my infant school pupils, played music to them and asked them to make up a story and draw a picture to go with it. Fascinating stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A very creative take on the prompt, Kim. The music on the video here is imposing and I can see where a child’s mind could imagine a lot hearing a full orchestra playing along these lines.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kinds of music build bridges to each other, and often whelp new forms. For me, it is not Rock that is the modern classical music, it is the fantastic musical scores for movies. The actual classics often were written about legends and events.

    Liked by 1 person

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