Adventures in the Public Domain: Write a Songs About Astrology and Mythology, Sit Back and Wait for a Black Metal Cover

29 04 2010

Today, I’m going to be taking a look at another piece of public domain music- namely Gustav Holst’s seven movement orchestral suite “The Planets.” But first, I’m going to give a shoutout to Aaron Dunn and Musopen. It’s a non-profit charity designed to catalog sheet music and recordings of public domain music. It’s a good idea in my book.

You might not be a big fan of orchestral music, but there’s still a decent change you’ve heard a portion of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” It might sound familiar if you’ve watched The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Right Stuff, or Wallace and Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit. You also might have run across it if you’ve played the game Drakengard, or happen to be a fan of black metal.

Holst was an English composer and astrology whacko. He started composing “The Planets” in 1914. The concept was that each planet in the solar system was represented by an movement embodying it’s astrological significance and mythological namesake. Thus we have movements entitled “Venus, the Bringer of Peace,” “Mars, the Bringer of War,” and “Mercury, the Winged Messanger.” Pluto doesn’t get a movement, because it was discovered in 1930 and nobody cares about Pluto anyway.

The composition premiered at Queen’s Hall in 1918 and promptly blew the roof off the joint. “The Planets” quickly became very popular, especially “Mars” and “Venus.” Holst later revised a portion of “Jupiter” and so that the tune would fit the popular hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country.” The revised portion of “Jupiter” (called “Thaxed”) has since been used as the melody for other hymns, as well as in the theme song for the World Rugby Cup.

Oh yeah, and the obligatory metal reincarnations.

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