The planets are seven short character pieces that form an orchestral suite. Holst wrote them between 1914 and 1917, in the middle of the First World War. Every piece has a very distinct character, reflecting the astrological nature of the planet.
Gustav Holst’s daughter later commented that her father had difficulty with large scale orchestral structures, like a symphony. These pieces are internally quite simple in a way. Though there is a lot of orchestral colouring, there is no sonata form, where a melody is juxtaposed against another. Each piece has just one basic melody, that is then put in different shapes without changing its essence.
I’ve always thought of this recording as the standard to which all the others have to measure. The wiki page doesn’t even mention it, and I cannot find it on streaming. So it is not so well known after all! Still, I do like it.
The influence of this work cannot be understated. Direct use of melodies was already been done by Holst himself in 1921’s patriotic song I vow to thee, my country. Later adaptations include Star Wars and a whole host of music for video games. If you’re into that, find this work and listen to it, you will certainly like it. To hear Jupiter is an absolute joy.