Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences


Music, Music History

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


Gustav Holst said about his seven-movement orchestral suite The Planets: "...whether it's good or bad, it grew in my mind slowly - like a baby in a woman's womb ... For two years I had the intention of composing that cycle, and during those two years it seemed of itself more and more definitely to be taking form." This rhetoric fits squarely with the 19th-century English and German musical context where "psychological" "mood pictures" in the form of orchestral works were popular. For example, both Holst's teachers Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), and Stanford's colleague, Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), composed orchestral works and discussed them using "psychological" terminology. Similar to Holst, Joseph Joachim often wrote about musical compositions maturing in his psyche like organisms, thereby taking in the composer's experiences and moods until they are immersed in subjective material. What does Holst mean by likening his composition to "a series of mood pictures" (Short, 1990)? Based on Holly Watkins (2011); Michael Short (1990); Richard Greene (1995) and Katharina Uhde (2014), in this research I investigate Holst's "mood pictures" in the context of Holst's letters and discussions; I compare this data to other 19th-century compositions with a "psychological" subtext that Holst would have, or could have, known through his teacher Charles Villers Stanford. By establishing connections between Holst's music and its "psychological" contents and comparing these with examples by Stanford and Joachim, Holst's "mood pictures" emerge within a wider tradition of "psychological" composition, which allows pinpointing and concretizing certain motivic, harmonic and formal features as particularly rich in "psychological" associations.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

The purpose of this particular topic is based on my interest in this suite, and thinking to myself about how I could approach writing about music in a different aspect than mostly on music research. I always find myself attached to this set of movements because visual work and imagining something like the Solar system interests me, and Holst's music obviously details the planets themselves, leaving the imagery of what the planets really evoke. I envisioned that within music and pictures, there are always possibilities to identify aspects of emotion, and feelings. It's inspiring to me to look into the psychological realms of things even if they don't have the power to actually give reactions, and moods, and think about how they could give that kind of picture, like a mood picture to be exact.