Top Menu

Barnett & Company Masterworks Series

The Planets

Kayoko Dan, conductor
COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man
COPLAND: Appalachian Spring
HOLST: The Planets

Concert_Backdrop_300dpiThe 2013/14 Masterworks Series begins with popular 20th Century works. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was written as a stirring musical tribute to those engaged in World War II, creating a fanfare that was traditional, direct and powerful. Copland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral suite, Appalachian Spring, takes us on a journey of 19th century American pioneers in Spring, inspired by the Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts. We close with an exploration of The Planets, Holst’s musical focus on the astrological aspects long associated with the planets and their mythological namesakes. Video imagery titled “Voyage of Discovery” by Video Ideas Productions, Inc. will accompany the works.

Download The Planets program here.

Aaron Copland (b. November 14, 1900 in Brooklyn; d. December 2, 1990 in Sleepy Hollow, NY)

Copland’s ninety years frame the twentieth century. The arc of his career is American as apple pie. He decided as a teenager on composition as a career and received excellent instruction early. He remembered his composition teacher Rubin Goldmark as sparing him “the floundering that so many musicians have suffered through incompetent teaching.” The young man chose to live on the cutting edge, attracting some critical acclaim for his daring music, but the public was unenthusiastic.

The Great Depression helped him mature. He adopted a more practical view: To make a good living, he began to write music with a wider appeal., music with an obvious use—teaching pieces, film music, and ballets. El Salón México for orchestra (1936), Billy the Kid (1938), the first of three ballets on American themes, film score for Of Mice and Men (1939) that received an Oscar nomination—he had made a good down payment on the title “dean of American composers” that he would own the rest of his life.

Fanfare for the Common Man

“I say that the century on which we are entering—the century which will come out of this war—can be and must be the century of the common man.” The day was May 8, 1942; the speaker, FDR’s second Vice President Henry Wallace. The speech was extraordinary in laying out a vision, early in WWII, of how America could and should be a force for rebuilding the postwar world, foreshadowing the Marshall Plan that reinvented Europe in less than a generation.

Reviving a tradition he began in WWI conductor Eugene Goossens of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra sought new fanfares to begin each concert. Copland responded to the request with Fanfare for the Common Man. It is music rooted in Wallace’s vision: Common men all, in or out of uniform would win the war and win the peace. Using only brass and percussion Copland stirs the soul in a unique way. Despite our overexposure to the music, on TV and elsewhere in popular culture, its appeal endures.

Appalachian Spring Suite

The year 1942 when Copland wrote Fanfare for the Common Man he also wrote his second American ballet Rodeo. The capstone in the series came two years later with Appalachian Spring, choreographed by Martha Graham who also suggested its name after hearing the music. Spring means not the season but a source of flowing water.

The ballet was an immediate success and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize the next year. The concert suite heard tonight premiered in 1945, Artur Rodzinski conducting the New York Philharmonic.

We hear in the music the joys and trials of a 19th century couple in their new farmhouse. Although the suite is divided into eight sections, the music proceeds without pause. Aaron Copland himself provided the following summary:

  1. VERY SLOWLY. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
  2. FAST. Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
  3. MODERATE. Duo for the Bride and her Intended – scene of tenderness and passion.
  4. QUITE FAST. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feeling – suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
  5. STILL FASTER. Solo dance of the Bride – presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
  6. VERY SLOWLY (as at first). Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.
  7. CALM AND FLOWING. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title “The Gift to Be Simple.” The melody most borrowed and used almost literally is called “Simple Gifts.”
  8. MODERATE. Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. At the end the couple are left “quiet and strong in their new house.” Muted strings intone a hushed prayerlike chorale passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.

 Gustav Holst (b. September 21, 1874 in Cheltenham, England; d. May 25, 1934 in London)

The Planets

Born Gustavus von Holst, “von” being an unauthorized aristocratic appropriation by his grandfather, Holst was a sickly child given perfunctory attention. He received instruction on piano, violin, and—somewhat perversely as a discipline to improve his asthma—trombone. He was a good musician and was drawn to composing early, but had to borrow money to get into the Royal College of Music in 1893. To save money he became a vegetarian and foreswore alcohol, ascetic traits he maintained the rest of his life. It fits his choices that when the full score of The Planets was published in 1921 his name was modestly abridged to Gustav Holst.

Audiences who have adored Holst’s remarkable Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra (as it was named in the first manuscripts) ever since the premiere of the complete work in 1920 unwittingly perpetuate an undeserved reputation of Holst as a one-trick pony. If he had not composed it, he would likely be remembered for a range of other achievements, in music education, in his influence on his peers like Ralph Vaughn-Williams, and in a body of work that elevated English folk songs into classical art.

Holst’s plight was even worse than Carl Orff and his hallmark work, Carmina Burana. Orff went on to write much music reminiscent of his great hit. Holst, on the other hand, cast himself against type in The Planets. It was a mature work of a type he never revisited.

Author Clifford Bax introduced Holst to astrology while the two were traveling in 1913. Soon after, Holst admitted, “…recently the character of each planet suggested lots to me, and I have been studying astrology fairly closely.” He wrote “Mars” in April 1914 and the remaining six movements in the following two years.

Theorists have debated the rationale for the ordering of movements and their interrelationship. The simplest is that, except for “Mercury,” inserted into the third position, they are in the order of composition. The tidiest explanation may be the balance of three inner planets and three far outer planets around Jupiter. Compare, for example, “Mars” the first and “Neptune” the last both in unusual 5/4 meter, but opposite in affect, bellicose vs. ethereal. Similar contrasts exist in the two other mirror pairs: “Venus,” sublime; “Uranus,” earthy. “Mercury,” flying by; “Saturn,” plodding.

Pluto was discovered in 1930 while Holst was still alive, but he resisted the idea of adding a planet. Indeed, by then he resented the outsized success of his early work to the exclusion of excellent work he had done since. That didn’t stop others from trying to “complete” the piece. For example, “Pluto, the Renewer” by Colin Matthews, a composer and Holst scholar, premiered in 2000.

When the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto to dwarf planet in 2006, Holst had a victory of sorts. As “Neptune” ends the work with shimmering women’s voices imperceptibly transitioning from sound to silence, it once again marks the end of our planetary system.

(c) Steve Hollingsworth, 2013

Bringing children to The Planets?

Find more information on the Gustav Holst, the piece, activities, and other resources by downloading a guide to The Planets from the CSO’s 2005 Young People’s Concerts.YPC 2005 – The Planets Teacher’s Guide

CSO Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy shares her favorite moments on the opening of Barnett & Company Masterworks Series, The Planets.

Excerpt from BBC Proms 2012 performance of Fanfare for the Common Man

Memphis Repertory Orchestra 2012 performance of Appalachian Spring

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra performance of The Planets