Ernest Macmillan – first 4 movements of Holst’s Planets; Adrian Boult – Elgar’s Imperial March; Gustav Holst – Saturn – two acoustic versions (1923 & 1925)

This latest update contains a selection of Planets, prompted by an email I received recently. Sir Ernest Macmillan recorded just four parts of Holst’s Planets Suite with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for Victor in 1942 – Mars, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter. As Mercury required only one side, Adrian Boult’s BBC Symphony Orchestra recording of Elgar’s Imperial March was used as a filler.

Holst – The Planets Op.32

No.1 Mars (The Bringer of War)
No.2 Venus (The Bringer of Peace)
No.3 Mercury (The Winged Messneger)
No.4 Jupiter (The Bringer of Jollity)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Ernest Macmillan

Elgar – Imperial March Op.32
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Adrian Boult

Mediafire link for Holst – Planets – excerpts – Macmillan

(This is a zip file – left click the link, download the file, then unzip when downloaded)

Victor album DM929, 11-8303/6 (auto-coupling)
(Standard coupling on 11-84121/5)

Matrices ??
Recorded 1942

Matrix 2EA-1054-1A
Recorded 16th April 1937

Holst’s recordings as a conductor are well-known. In particular his acoustic and electrical recordings of The Planets have both been reissued more than once. However, as is typical for English Columbia, the subject of the acoustic recordings has some complications. As originally issued, the complete set, recorded from 1922 to 1923 (with the filler side in 1924) was issued on the following records, with the matrix and take numbers as shown:

L1459 – Jupiter 75204-2, 75205-3 (Recorded 27th October 1922 – Issued February 1923)
L1499 – Venus AX 136-2, AX 137-4 (Recorded 23rd August 1923 – Issued November 1923)
L1509 – Uranus AX 138-2, AX 139-3 (Recorded 24th August 1923 – Issued December 1923)
L1528 – Mars AX 197-2, AX 198-2 (Recorded 30th October 1923 – Issued February 1924)
L1532 – Saturn AX 199-1, AX 200-2 (Recorded 30th October 1923 – Issued March 1924)
L1542 – Neptune AX 205-1, AX 206-1 (Recorded 6th November 1923 – Issued April 1924)
L1543 – Mercury AX 135-3 (Recorded 23rd August 1923) and Marching Song AX 303-1 (Recorded 14th February 1924 – Issued May 1924)

However, for whatever reason (besides Columbia’s common practice), Jupiter and Saturn were re-recorded acoustically in 1925:

L1532 – Saturn AX 199-3, AX 200-3 (Recorded 19th February 1925 – Issued April 1925)
L1459 – Jupiter 75204-8, 75205-6 (Recorded 15th September 1925 – just a month later Columbia UK were making electrical recordings – Issued October 1925)

All of the acoustic versions were replaced in December 1926 with the electrically recorded remake (for which the catalogue numbers have an R appended.)

I’m fortunate to have both acoustic versions of Saturn in my collection. As usual on English Columbia, the take numbers are not visible on the records, so it becomes more difficult to determine which version is the earlier. The two issues are distinguished by a different width of playing surface and different copyright stamps.

Quicker performance:

4½d copyright stamp of “The Copyright Protection Society (Mechanics Rights) Ltd.”
Playing surface 3 1/16 inch on side 1 and 2 14/16 inch on side 2 (measuring from the start of the groove). It’s sadly in a rather battered condition.
This has a total playing time of 7:01

Slower performance:

4d “Mecolico” copyright stamp.
Playing surface 3 11/16 inch on side 1 and 3 5/16 inch on side 2.
This has a total playing time of 8:22

Mecolico was founded slightly earlier than the CPS, but they did coexist. However, my records from the electrical set also have a 4d Mecolico stamp, suggesting that the lower copyright price with Mecolico is later.

Thus the 1925 recording is more than a minute slower than the 1923 recording – a vast difference, and one which sheds interesting light on Holst’s performance practice.

My copy of Jupiter, also has a 4½d CPS copyright stamp, and a large gap between the end of the groove and the label. The playing surface is 3 1/16 inch on side 1 and 2 9/16 on side 2. Given the common features with the earlier Saturn recording, this would suggest that this is the earlier recording of Jupiter, total time about 6:50. This would appear to be the oft-reissued version, unsurprisingly, as it was available for 2 years and 8 months, while the 1925 remake was available for only 1 year and 2 months.

I’ve not managed to find a copy of the 1925 version of Jupiter yet, but I’m ever hopeful. I can’t help but wonder whether the two versions of Jupiter will be as different as the two of Saturn.

I suppose we should be thankful that these Holst acoustics had a rather less convoluted history than some English Columbias – most of Henry Wood’s acoustics seem to have 2 distinct versions (occasionally up to 4), and one Frank Mullings recordings went through five phases of issue!

Holst – The Planets Op.32 – No.5 Saturn

1923 and 1925 recordings

London Symphony Orchestra, Gustav Holst

Holst – Saturn (1923) – LSO, Holst

Holst – Saturn (1925) – LSO, Holst

(mp3 files – click to play, or right click the link, then select “Save as”)

Columbia L1532
Matrices AX 199-1, AX 200-2
Recorded 30th October 1923
Issued March 1924

Columbia L1532
Matrices AX 199-3, AX 200-3
Recorded 19th February 1925
Issued April 1925
Replaced with electrical version in December 1926

Leave a Reply