Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age

more plodding and persevering than brilliant and active

This was Holst’s favourite movement and the most reflective of his own personality. He was not a well man and did not enjoy public acclaim or attention. This piece tries to convey in music what it feels like to get old. You don’t move as fast. Everyday tasks take longer. The opening alternating chords sound like the ticking of a clock; the long notes might depict tired, dragging limbs. Holst’s Saturn is peaceful at times, and ominous, almost chaotic, at others. For the Romans, Saturn was a god of time, which may have influenced Holst’s subtitle, 'The Bringer of Old Age.' In fact, Saturn is the same age as every other planet in our solar system, 4.5 billion years or so.

Planet Facts:

  • Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in the solar system.
  • Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture.
  • It is a gas giant which means is made mainly of hydrogen and helium and it doesn’t have a solid surface. It has an average radius about nine times that of Earth.
  • The planet's most famous feature are its rings made of ice, rocks and dust.
  • The planet has at least 62 moons the largest of which, Titan, is bigger than the planet Mercury.
  • 764 Earths would fit inside Saturn, but the gas giant weighs only 95 times as much as our rocky world.
  • If you could put all of the planets in a pool of water, Saturn is the only one that would float.
  • Despite its size, Saturn spins once in a little more than 10 hours. Its spin is so rapid that it bulges outwards at the equator, making it look like a ball that has been squashed.
  • In a telescope, Saturn appears a pale yellow colour.
  • It has no solid surface, so what we are seeing are clouds that appear as light and dark bands. These clouds are blown along by very strong winds. Much of the heat that drives these winds comes from inside the planet.
  • The Cassini probe orbited Saturn 294 times between 2004 and 2017 and explored many of Saturn’s moons.
  • The Huygens lander parachuted onto the surface of Titan in 2005. It was the first soft landing on another planetary satellite (apart from our Moon). Orange Titan was found to be a strange, icy world where methane rain fills lakes and rivers

Suggested classroom activities

When you’re 11, getting old seems a very long way away. How old are your parents? How old are your grandparents? What will it feel like to be their age? What aspects of life will get easier and what will get more difficult?

Life expectancy has increased dramatically as people’s lives have become safer, medical care has improved and food supplies have become more reliable. Since 1900, the average life expectancy around the world has more than doubled. The current record was set by a French woman called Jeanne Calment who died at the age of 122 in 1997. Some scientist think that, in theory, there’s no limit to how long humans could live. Would you want to live forever? What would you do with all that time? How would we cope with so many people on Earth?

Explore Holst's The Planets

Download the full resource pack for more explorations of planetary science, ideas for classroom activities, and links to external resources.