26 August 2006

Requiem for a Former Planet

If there’s anyone in the world truly happy about the
recent decision by the International Astronomical Union
to remove Pluto’s planetary status it must be Gustav Holst.

Or at least it would be, if he wasn’t busy being dead for
the past 72 years.

A popular favorite since its premiere in 1920, The Planets
is perhaps the best-known orchestral work of the 20th
Century. Along with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and
Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, it has
become a classic work for children and a great
introduction to “serious” music. A recording by Leonard
Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic was one of the
first albums I ever owned and even sounded pretty
decent on my plastic Fisher Price turntable. These days
I’m more partial to the version by Holst’s friend and fellow
countryman, Sir Adrian Boult.

But as a kid, I was always disappointed that Pluto was
nowhere to be found in The Planets suite. The work ends
with the icy, siren voices of Neptune fading away into
the dark, silent void of outer space.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt like something
was missing

Although Pluto was discovered during Holst's
lifetime, in 1930, Holst expressed no interest in
writing a movement for it. In 2000, The Hallé
Orchestra commissioned composer Colin
Matthews, a Holst specialist, to write a new
eighth movement, which Matthews entitled
Pluto, the Renewer. Dedicated to Imogen Holst,
Gustav Holst's daughter, it was first performed
in Manchester on May 11, 2000, with Kent
Nagano conducting the Hallé Orchestra.
Matthews changed the ending of Neptune into a
transition to "Pluto". In August 2006 Pluto's
status was changed from a planet to a dwarf
planet by The International Astronomical Union
(IAU), a worldwide society of astronomers from
75 countries.

That’s what you get for tinkering with the classics.