Mercury the Winged Messenger

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Something for the weekend.  Gustav Holst’s Mercury, the winged messenger, part of The Planets.  Some things become so popular that we tend to take them for granted.  I am afraid that is what has happened to some degree with The Planets.  It is a magnificent piece of music and places Holst in the top ten list of composers of all time in my estimation.


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  1. Of course you have a right to your taste and listening to bad music is no sin, but it’s unfortunate that so many solidly orthodox Catholic commentators and so many genuinely conservative political commentators fail to see the power of modernism in the arts. Can’t you see how destructive Picasso and Duchamp have been in the visual arts? These formless orchestral composers are the same. “Formlessness” we have been told, is heretical. Likewise are rebellions against form.
    I’m not saying never listen to the Beatles (it’d be like saying never play bridge), but don’t try to tell me these cerebral, commercialized constructs from the minds of modern composers are worthy of my attention as art representing truth.

  2. Noted and rejected. Arguments over taste in music are as barren as arguments over whether chocolate ice cream is superior to vanilla ice cream. I have never subscribed to the idea that trends in art usually have much impact on political developments or developments in popular morality. Contra Plato I think the relationship is ordinarily the other way around. I do wish to thank you however for making a negative comment about Holst’s The Planets. It does reassure me that no matter what the subject is, someone in blogland will take a contrarian view.

  3. I have never subscribed to the idea that trends in art usually have much impact on political developments or developments in popular morality.

    I’ll take a slightly more middle route, and say that art grows on what’s going on, and can slightly sway it; kind of like a climbing vine on a tree. If the tree is really young, the vine can make it turn, if the tree is weak, it might kill off bits, and if the vine is in the right place and strong enough it can defend the tree from bad influences. It’s not so much the art doing it, as the things the art is about and that the being around art fosters having an effect.

    I wouldn’t call this “formless” by any means! It’s not directly narrative, but it’s still got a beautiful flow to it– if I had to think of a visual version, it’s like those lovely fractal images.

    What’s the purpose of art? I’d say it’s mainly to feed our God-given hunger for beauty, with a secondary purpose of conveying information, and probably some others in there. A still life isn’t superior to a portrait from memory isn’t superior to a non-fantastic scene from imagination isn’t superior to paintings of angels simply because of what the subject matter is.

  4. Yeah, I’m confused. If one is going to go after “formlessness” in art, Holst doesn’t seem like the guy to go after. For mid-20th century composers, he’s pretty conservative. Maybe not quite as much so as Ralph Vaughn-Williams (my own favorite modern composer) but really pretty darn conservative.

  5. Hmmm. Browsing around through Holst on YouTube I stumbled across a piece I remember listening to numerous times as a kid, from my dad’s music collection, but had forgotten about.

    Ain’t no formlessness there…

  6. When railing about modern music, Holst is probably not the guy I’d latch onto. Besides I can say as a clarinet player that the Holst First Suite for Band is one of the most fun band pieces to play. We are actually treated as a worthy instrument and not a violin substitute.

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