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TREVOR HOLD has dragged
from oblivion some music
you will not know.

23. Gustav Holst's 'Pluto', from The Planets (rev.)



We read with some surprise in The Times recently that Mr Colin Matthews had written a sequel to Holst's The Planets, 'Pluto', and that it was to be given its first performance in May and included in the current Prom season. Does he not realise that Holst had already supplied the missing planet?

The discovery of Pluto in January 1930 by the American astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh, placed Holst in an awkward predicament. Should he revise his original Planets suite by adding a new movement? - or risk criticism from the astronomical fraternity for failing to complete the sequence? He decided to consult some of his friends. Balfour Gardiner said, No: leave things as they are. Where would it end? Several other planets might be discovered and he'd constantly have to add extra movements. Vaughan Williams, on the other hand, said, Go ahead! - Add Pluto! - and with typical generosity offered to help him out with the scoring. Holst eventually did decide to add the supplementary movement, though not without some reluctance, realising that in the 15 intervening years, his style had radically altered. Would he be able to recapture that 'first fine careless rapture'?

He certainly captures the remoteness of that distant planet, with the relentless 'processional' of bass crotchets, which opens and concludes the piece. (We could be in Hammersmith or on Egdon Heath, but evidently Pluto is like that too.) Relief from this barren austerity is provided by a short dance-like episode in alternating 5/4 and 7/4 metres. All too soon, however, the plodding crotchets return. In this piece, the composer's experiments with bitonality are taken a step further, notably the famous passage (before letter K) where he requires not two but three different key signatures: three flats, for flutes, oboes, horns and violas; four sharps, for clarinets, trumpets and double bass; whilst the rest of the orchestra is in C. (The F-doublesharp for the bassoons is probably an error: see Holst, I, 1983: 7)

But the most extraordinary moment comes at the end where, over two alternating triads (xylophones, vibraphones, harps, celestas), the music fades away to almost nothing: we are left with just two semi-choruses of male voices echoing the chords, as it were, into eternity. The music here conjures up a feeling of utter bleakness and loneliness - despair, even. It is as though two wolves (or, more appropriately perhaps, bloodhounds) were howling in the distant reaches of the cosmos. It is an utterly satisfying moment! We hope that Mr Matthews' version is of the same musical quality.


Copyright © 25 May 2000, Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK


Trevor Hold returns later in the year
with a final series of 'Rejected Reviews'


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