Week 6 – War on Mars
Composer: Gustav Holst (1839 - 1881)
Title: Mars from The Planets Suite
Genre: Orchestral Suite
Background: ‘Mars, Bringer of War’ is one movement from The Planets, written by Gustav Holst, between the years 1914-16, at the start of World War One. It was first performed immediately following the war, in 1918. The music is written for a big orchestra, and Holst chose to include a very large percussion section!
There are seven movements in The Planets and each of these is a character piece, musically depicting the planet’s mood, and that of its Roman god. Holst’s love of astrology inspired him to write this work. The music is written about the planet Mars, but also about Mars, the Roman God of War. How are these two similar? The relentless five-beat ostinato pattern, the thumping drums and the sound of the strings suggest evil, aggression and angst. The planet Mars reflects these characteristics, and its two moons have war-like names (Phobos: meaning ‘fear’; and Deimos: meaning ‘terror’). The heavy use of brass and percussion instruments, commonly associated with the military, suggests an army marching to war. Use of these instruments gives the music a dark mood, in the same way that an author creates a certain mood in a story by using descriptions.
Things to do:
1. Listen to the opening; what can you hear that sounds like war?
2. The instruments in the string family are using a technique called ‘col legno’ in this piece. Can you find out what that means?
3. Holst uses a lot of brass instruments in this piece. Why do you think he chose to do that? What effect does it create?
4. Holst also wrote music for six other plants. One of them is Venus: The Bringer of Peace. What do you think this music will sound like?
5. Would you like to fly to Mars? If you had the choice, which planet would you visit?
You can listen to the music on YouTube here.