Neptune, the Mystic

Many years ago I wrote a short poem while listening to the final and most otherworldly section of The Planets by Gustav Holst: Neptune, the Mystic.

Here it is:

Neptune, the Mystic from The Planets by Gustav Holst
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley
Ambrosian Chorus, John McCarthy
Alto ALC 1013
The endless poetry of space
Sends shivers across my spine,
And there upon the threshold sounds
The now distant drone of time.
Music fills the spacecraft
Starlight fills the night,
And there upon the threshold think
I wonder, was I right?
David Oesper


The Planets was written by Holst between 1914 and 1916, and the premiere performance was at The Queen’s Hall, London, on September 29, 1918.  Adrian Boult conducted the orchestra in a private performance for about 250 invited guests.  The Queen’s Hall was destroyed by an incendiary bomb during the London Blitz in 1941, seven years after Holst’s death in 1934.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, and was considered to be the ninth planet until its controversial demotion by the IAU in 2006.  A number of composers have added a Pluto movement to The Planets (“Pluto, the Renewer” by Colin Matthews, for example), and even an improvised performance (“Pluto, the Unpredictable”) by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.  I remember enjoying “Pluto, the Unknown” by American composer Peter Hamlin performed by the Des Moines Symphony in 1992, but unfortunately no recording of this work exists.

5 thoughts on “Neptune, the Mystic”

  1. I sang at the world premiere of Pluto: the Unknown with the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra and the UNI Women’s Chorus. I would check with them for a recording. I crossed paths with Peter many years ago, and he was kind enough to furnish me with a cassette of the performance. Wish I knew where I put it!

    1. Wow, that’s really neat, Darcie! Do you suppose I should contact Peter Hamlin first? It looks like he is currently the chair of the Music Department at Middlebury College.

      Singing in a good choir is a fantastic experience, isn’t it? And you always remember special performances. For me, it was singing in the Oratorio Choir at Iowa State University under Bob Molison on the stage of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium when we performed the Verdi Requiem with the Cleveland Orchestra and soloists under Lorin Maazel. And performing the Rutter Requiem with the UCC-Congregational choir in Ames, Iowa under Dawn Willis. And singing in the Sul Ross State University Concert Choir under Donald Freed, performing his choral works. And so on. I really miss those experiences. This tenor still has a pretty good voice, which I don’t get to use often enough these days. I hope you are still singing!

  2. I just found this post and am so happy to see my piece remembered!

    Thank you, David. And great to see your post Darcie!

    I don’t have a digital recording — will have to look to see if I have an old analog recording that could be transferred. I wonder if the orchestra has an archive.

    Coincidentally, right after the premiere in Waterloo, Iowa, Clyde Tombaugh visited the University of Northern Iowa and gave a talk, and I got to interview him for my radio show. Sorry to say that our archiving wasn’t very excellent back then so I’m pretty sure there’s no recording of that, but it was very exciting to hear him talk about his discovery and his career in his own words. Sorry to say his visit wasn’t at the same as the premiere. That would have been quite a thrill!

    It means so much to me that people have remembered this piece. It was a very exciting project that I was very proud of.

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, Peter! I’d be delighted if you were able to locate a recording of your composition “Pluto, the Unknown” and made it available for us to hear. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

      I, too, remember meeting Clyde Tombaugh! He gave an evening lecture at Iowa State University in Ames on May 1, 1990:

      Perhaps this was the same trip to Iowa when he visited you in Cedar Falls, too.

      I hope you are still composing music!

      All the Best,


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