December 15, 2013 3 Comments
According to Nietzsche, the tension between the Apollonian (light, reason, spiritual and logical) and the Dionysian (dark, animalistic, orgiastic and creative) drives the creative and artistic. You can’t live inside your head all the time and be at war with your body without having to bust loose every so often.
Riding this dualistic seesaw seems an inefficient way of producing art, however. Over the past few years I’ve been more attracted to the Taoist way, in which one strive to find the acceptance and balance between mind and body. You need each but not to the exclusion of the other.
The ancient Romans had gods for most human emotions, foibles, and strengths to explain all of life’s strife and pleasure. Gustav Holst must have pined for those old ways when he created The Planets. It is one of those evergreen pieces you hear over and over on call-in classical request shows. Begun in 1914, it has become a standard of the classical repertoire overshadowing most of his other work. Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity comes fourth in this suite of seven movements, one for each known planet of Holst’ day, excluding Earth.
Now each planet is named after a different Roman god, but Holst did not use the mythical character of the gods. Instead in each piece, he tried to capture the character trait associated in the planet according to astrological interpretation. In classical mythology, Jupiter is the thunderer who goes around cheating on his wife Juno with just about every other female goddess or mortal he can. In astrology, on the other hand, Jupiter is the great benefactor and its large size is associated with a big heart.
To me, the music in Jupiter expresses pure joy and exuberance. It is akin to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in that you can almost picture happy peasants reaping a fall harvest, a village festival, or some such bucolic scene. The music begins with a flourish of cascading strings, quickly joined by the horns playing an energetic jig, punctuated by a glockenspiel. After a while a second two-beat theme starts in the horns accompanied by the bases and thuds of the tympani. Holst then plays these pieces off one another, running them sometimes parallel, sometimes intertwining them with one another. Eventually, it wells up into a lush, slow, grand, sweeping interlude that sounds a bit like one of those inspiring English hymns like Jerusalem. Lest he get too pompous, Holst brings back the first, two playful themes and then plays around with them almost in a fugue before turning almost nautical and then ending with a bright flourish.
This is almost the way you start to feel, when under the effects of alcohol you loosen the reigns a bit on your passions before you make a fool of yourself and wake up with a hang-over. How much better to get mind, body an soul all firing on 8 cylinders as Holst does with those three themes in Jupiter. This is the essence of true creativity and authority used wisely.