Holst’s remarkable suite The Planets has become of of the most famous compositions of the 20th century. The mechanical foreboding of Mars, The Bringer of War still brings a shiver down the spine – something superbly realised in this stunning arrangement by Phillip Littlemore.
Holst first became interested in astrology around 1912/13 and so began the gestation for a series of pieces that would ultimately become the suite The Planets. Th suite itself was written between 1914 and 1916 and with the exception of Mercury, which was written last, Holst wrote the music in the sequence we now know them, and thus did not present the inner planets of Mercury, Venue and Mars in planetary order. So, in 1914, came the insistent rhythmic tread of Mars, The Bringer of War. It is widely known that the sketches were completed prior to the outbreak of the First World War, so the music is less a reaction to the declaration of war itself, but more an impending sense of inevitability of the war about to unfold. Even though Holst would not have known whether war would be declared as he wrote the music, it is almost certain that the news at the time would have had some influence on the music itself. Its insistent 5/4 rhythm, couple with the winding melody line and the juxtaposition of keys such as D flat and C major all point to a sense of foreboding.