KS2 Music Quiz
Ten Pieces - 'Mars' from 'The Planets'
What unusual technique are the string players asked to use during this piece of music?

Ten Pieces - 'Mars' from 'The Planets'

If you are familiar with the BBC Ten Pieces, you will enjoy this KS2 Music quiz about Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War from his suite, The Planets.

The Planets is a seven-piece suite in which each movement is named after a planet. The first movement, Mars, the Bringer of War, is probably one of the most startling pieces of classical music ever written. Its rhythm, pounded on repetitive drums, gives it a military air - appropriate for a piece symbolic of the Roman god of War. The work has an 'angry' sound to it and an ominous feel, which together make it one of the most striking pieces of classical music. If you've listened to it you'll know exactly what I mean!

How can a piece of music so successfully symbolise the god of War and generate such a menacing air? Let's go 'under the bonnet' and see what exactly makes Mars, the Bringer of War such an effective work!

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  1. Why would the whole idea of Mars most likely have been in Holst's mind at the time when he wrote this piece?
    Holst composed the Suite during 1914-16 but he did not hear it performed until September 1918 when the war was effectively over
  2. Mars has many obvious, and intentional, 'warlike' and military features of style: not least that it is march-like ... though not quite. What's 'deliberately wrong' with it as a march?
    Yes, it's in 5/4 all the way through, which the ear quickly gets used to ~ through the growing and battering repetition ~ yet it remains disturbing. Neptune (the 'outer' movement of this Suite) is also in 5/4 but obviously far more leisurely. Few others have managed to write successfully in this time-signature, though there are memorable examples of a 5/4 'waltz' in a Tchaikovsky symphony, plus of course Dave Brubeck's legendary Take Five ...
  3. What is the usual semi-technical name for a 'call' by one or more trumpets?
    We hear plenty of these as the piece progresses
  4. What unusual technique are the string players asked to use during the outer section of Mars?
    The technique is called, in musical Italian, col legno ('with the wood'). Your author well recalls hearing Mars as his first-ever CD ~ after an upbringing on vinyl LPs ~ in about 1980, when for the first time he could actually hear the texture of the wood
  5. What is the Italian musical term for the insistent use of a rhythm or shape right through a piece, such as the 'wonky-march' motif in this movement?
    ... = 'obstinate', in other words a musical shape that refuses to give way
  6. Apart from Neptune, what musical forces did Holst originally have in mind for this Suite?
    Neptune was originally for organ, because the percussive sound of the piano/s wasn't dreamy enough for the effect Holst wanted
  7. There is another link between Neptune and the organ: what is it?
    Holst used to play the village organ at Wyck Rissington in the Cotswolds (several miles, walked to & fro in all weathers, from his hometown of Cheltenham); the organ there only has a fairly basic swell-box
  8. What is the simple but startling musical 'recipe' for the first three notes around which Holst builds the tune in Mars?
    Crucial, yet disturbingly simple. The piece doesn't really settle into anything like a conventional 'key' for a long while, either, adding to the intendedly unsettling effect
  9. Which of the following types of drum, used in this piece, would not feature in an actual marching military band?
    Kettledrums would not be practical on the march, though a light pair have been known to be used in older times by cavalry (mounted) bands. The side and snare drums (Answers 1 & 4) are effectively the same thing and feature prominently throughout this piece
  10. Who conducted the first performance of the Planets suite?
    Holst wrote a grateful message into Boult's score of the music after its first performance in 1918

Author: Ian Miles

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