The Planets remains by far Holst’s most popular work. Indeed, its popularity came to distress him during his lifetime. He may have achieved, in later years, things that were more profound and more deeply personal in their expression, but The Planets is the first fully effective statement of his maturity; its conception has a boldness, excitement and epic sweep that remain immediately impressive after a hundred hearings. It is one of the 20th century’s great colouristic showpieces.
Vaughan Williams once said that the work was “the perfect equilibrium” of Holst’s nature – the melodic, precise and structured, combined with the mystic and unexplainable. Among the earliest evidences of Vaughan Williams weaving the threads of English folk music into the fabric of his creativity were the three Norfolk Rhapsodies into which he incorporated several melodies from the region. The opening of the first evokes the sky and space of East Anglia and soon a solo viola quotes the tragic and beautiful song The Captain’s Apprentice which dominates the score and gives it a haunting quality.
Elgar’s ebullient concert overture has everything that is most admired about his music – wonderful melody, nobility of expression and moving passion. Written whilst on holiday in the Italian Riviera, it was inspired by the pastoral countryside and reminders of Ancient Rome.