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Thursday, May 26, 2011

That's No Moon, That's a.....

Pluto and the Battle of The Planets.

Pluto, now a minor planet.
Following the recent Philadelphia Orchestra performance of Holst's The Planets, I've been investigating Pluto, the Renewer, the six-minute "sequel" written by composer Colin Matthews in 2000.

The (former) planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. It turned out to be a small, rocky, ice-covered world that occasionally traded orbits with Neptune. Further discoveries, including that of the (larger) scattered disc object Eris in 2005 led to the 2006 decision of the International Astronomical Union, demoting Pluto to the status of "minor planet."

Holst completed The Planets in 1916. Although he later heard of Tombaugh's discovery, he was content with a seven-movement suite depicting Mars, Venus, Mercury, Earth, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. His exploration of the outer planets becomes progressively weirder. Highlights include the proto-doom-metal march of Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age and the shimmering wordless chorus of Neptune, The Mystic..

Colin Matthews is an acclaimed composer and authority on Holst's music. Pluto was commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra in 2000 as a new eighth moement. The piece is designed to be played directly after the fade-out that ends Neptune, the Mystic at the end of Holst's suite. It recapitultes many elements from earlier in The Planets, attempting to "sum up" Holst's music, using his orchestral technique while putting a more modern spin on these musical ideas.

A first listen immediately reveals scintillating glockenspiel parts, the rapid-fire scales of Mercury, the 'cello run up that starts Jupiter and the low, menacing growls of Saturn. The music then thunders into gear with a clattering timpani part, roaring tuba and lighter brass, and a cosmic storm of ostinato rhythms that recall the heavier pages of Mars..

Footage of Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Pluto for your listening pleasure.

Attempts to finish or improve other composer's unfinished compositions rarely succeed. By attempting to summarize The Planets with a grand finale, Mr. Matthews undermined Holst's intent of a cosmic fade-out into the void of space. With the relegation of Pluto to the ranks of minor planets, this piece becomes an interesting historical footnote.

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