Bernstein on Teaching and Learning

Bernstein on Holst, the “Mysticism Freak”

When was the last time you looked up your horoscope?

Was it this week? Today, even? What about the horoscope of a friend, or someone you love?

If you answered “recently” to any of those questions, you have something in common with Gustav Holst, born September 21, 1874. A celebrated British music teacher and composer, Holst adored astrology and was fascinated with mysticism — one of his favorite pastimes was drawing up horoscopes for his friends, using star signs to describe aspects of their characters.

He did the same with his work The Planets, ascribing to each planet in the solar system personality traits that he then translated into music (for example, “Venus: Bringer of Peace”).

The movements range from darkly mysterious to just plain fun — and, like astrology, it’s all for entertainment, as Bernstein pointed out in his final Young People’s Concert (1972), dedicated to The Planets.

Where’s Planet Earth?

In the above clip, Bernstein mentions that two planets are not included in Holst’s solar system — Earth and Pluto. The reasoning for Pluto’s absence is simple: it hadn’t been discovered yet when Holst wrote the piece. Earth, however, is a little more complicated. Bernstein explained:

…Holst wasn’t at all interested in astronomy, but in astrology. I’m sure you know the difference. Now we all know that in astronomy the sun is the center of our system, and we all revolve around it; but in astrology the Earth is the center, and everything else revolves around us, including the sun and the moon.

So out went Earth as a planet.

Bernstein goes on to describe Holst’s interest in astrology in further detail, supposing that “today he would be called a mysticism freak.”

By the way, in case it is important for you to know this: Holst and Bernstein were both Virgos.

Photos: Holst. (F Sancha – Fanfare musical magazine, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons) | YPC Scripts: Holst: “The Planets” Outline/Notes, p 1. (Library of Congress Music Division) | Holst Memorial at Chichester Cathedral. (Poliphilo [CC0], Wikimedia Commons)


Here are recordings of Bernstein leading the New York Philharmonic in The Planets, followed by the orchestra’s own improvisation, titled Pluto, the Unpredictable.

Holst’s The Planets

I. Mars: The Bringer of War

II. Venus, the Bringer of Peace

III. Mercury, the Winged Messenger

IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age

Improvisation by the New York Philharmonic

Pluto, the Unpredictable

Curious about Holst? Enjoy these 15 “Holst facts” from Classic FM.

About this content

Leonard Bernstein conducted 53 programs of Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic between 1958 and 1972. Produced and directed by Roger Englander, “Holst: The Planets” was originally broadcast on the CBS Television Network on March 26, 1972. It was Bernstein’s final Young People’s Concert. Complete episodes available (Young People’s Concerts, Vol. II). Video and transcripts © 1990, 1993 The Leonard Bernstein Office Inc.

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