In the mid-1910s, World War I was beginning, the 20th century was becoming industrialized, and a whole new world was upon us. As these changes altered the world, so did they change the nature of art. Both art and music responded to these unique developments in interesting ways. Some, like Gustav Holst, the composer of The Planets, looked outward to the stars, while others, like Edward Munch in his painting The Scream, looked inward at the existential horrors of what lay ahead. Both of these works are created in distinct ways, using similar artistic language to convey wildly different ideas. The notions of melody, harmony, line, texture, timbre and others are used to evalute the artistic intentions ad moods behind the "Jupiter" movement of Holst's The Planets (1914-1916), as well as Munch's 1915 painting The Scream.
Gustav Holst's The Planets is a grand, seven-movement suite providing musical encapsulations of seven major planets in the solar system, from Mercury to Neptune. The movement in question, "Jupiter," lies at the midpoint of the suite, and provides an anchor to the rest of the suite. Holst's movement is a playful yet grand piece of music that seeks to demonstrate the awesome power of the gas giant through its huge, brassy sound, which is intermixed with precocious, mischievous woodwinds and strings. Holst's use of melody is quite stirring; the melodies in this piece are almost perpetually in major key, and are sometimes almost hymn-like in their solemnity. There are several major themes used in this piece, the aforementioned solemn hymn which is bookended by exciting, brassy anthems of similar melody at either end of the suite.
Edvard Munch, on the other hand, in his painting The Scream, uses swirling, abstract expressionism and strong contrasts in color and shape to create a vision of a frightened man (or creature) horrifically lamenting his place in the world. In this painting, broad strokes are used to create strong colors that swirl around the central figure, a featureless and hairless man holding his hands up to his face in a silent scream. Two figures walk down the bridge he is standing on in the background, and the bright orange sunset dramatically rests against the dark blue of the sea behind him. The melody of this particular painting comes through in the shape of the man himself - horrified at the world around him, he himself is a horrible creature. Pale white skin, featureless hands that wrap around his alien-like head, no hair or eyebrows and what appears to be only a dark robe covering him, the figure is the most horrifying part of the painting for us, while the rest of the world around him seems dreamlike, but not quite horrific as the creature seems to be.
Holst, in the Jupiter movement, employs a great use of harmony to emphasize modality rather than tonality - there are few typical harmonic progressions in the music, and there is no real discernible key that is maintained throughout the piece. To that end, there is no real leading tone, as the harmony and melody work together to create a generally flowing and directionless, yet exuberant sound to the piece. The melody and harmony often seem to clash with each other, as often, two sets of instruments are merely playing conflicting melodies instead of harmonizing. This particular sound allows the movement to feel very free-form and structureless, which is Holst's way of letting go the shackles of said structure and demonstrating the mighty joviality of Jupiter.
Munch's use of harmony for The Scream comes in the contrast of the man with his environment, creating that same sense of clashing that is found in "Jupiter." However, instead of the two factors combining in their dissonance to find a wonderful playfulness, Munch's figure completely rejects the world around him, despite it looking somewhat like him. The bridge he is standing on is painted with sharp angles, to make the completely shadowy figures behind him look that much further away. The intense oranges and blues contrast each other, bringing an immense sense of color to the world around the creature, whose black and white nature seems to provide its own dissonance.
Holst's "Jupiter" has a very polyphonic sound for the majority of its runtime, lending to it a playful, exuberant texture that befits the light, airy nature of the planet Jupiter. Holst meant to convey chaotic yet happy attitudes and dispositions, hence the heavy use of woodwings and lavish strings playing quickly and interchangeably surrounding straightforward, booming percussion and brass. This texture is interrupted in the middle of the piece by the sixth section, the solemn hymn in which the dynamics fade to a wonderful mezzo piano, as the French horn section blares out a regal, sophisticated melody that balances the playfulness of Jupiter with its immense power and size. It is here that Holst sits us down to allow us to acknowledge the might and heart found in this gas giant, before returning to the playfulness, which we enjoy all the more having recognized and come to respect Jupiter.
Munch's artistic texture, and use of line, showcase the dramatic warping and distortion of his world in The Scream. Munch's brushstrokes are hard and thick, with little to no blending together, as the whole painting seems like a series of set colors arranged in order. Nothing works together or coalesces, which is likely the reason the creature is so horrified. In addition to this, the main figure himself is drawn with wavy lines and curves, directly juxtaposed with the straight lines of the bridge and railing, showing just how out of sorts he is with this world. While the sky and lake curve around behind him, he seems much too far away from it for it to make a difference. Unlike Holst's method of conveying happiness and exuberance through his texture, Munch's textures and lines convey a very dramatic sense of dissonance that is difficult for the creature (and the audience) to effectively reconcile.
In "Jupiter," Holst's primary rhythms consist of a large, almost-lumbering bass that offers the baseline for a variety of faster, more interconnected and complex rhythms. Having these two ideas counteract each other, with the large, booming and consistent rhythm cradling these more complex counterrhythms, replete with strange meters and many off-beats, Holst demonstrates the grandeur and power of the solar system's largest planet, while demonstrating the peacefulness and playfulness he sees in the work.
Much of "Jupiter"'s charm comes from the vast changes in tempo and dynamics that occur throughout the piece. Straight from the beginning of the piece, with the whirling and disorienting woodwind section, the tempo is fast and the dynamics loud and thrilling. The rest of this first half of the piece takes us through majestic strings and brass, all playing in staccato with quick phrases, conveying a great sense of energy and delight. In the middle section, however, the dynamics and tempo take a rest to give us the time to breathe and take in the majesty of the planet, before getting loud and fast again with the final section, where all the themes coalesce into a tornado of sound that exemplifies the joyfulness Holst wished to attribute to the planet.
Both Holst's The Planets and Munch's The Scream are the products of the same time period, but present wholly different outlooks on it through their use of melody, space, tempo, rhythm and more. Holst, in his "Jupiter" movement, sought to create a chaotic yet immensely joyful and reverent ode to the largest planet in the solar system - his use of playful countermelodies, loud dynamics and fast tempos contrasted lovingly with reverent brassy hymns shows a great love and joy that he wanted his listeners to convey. However, Munch seems to want to identify a world of horror and warped perspective through his use of broad, discrete brushstrokes and contrast between bold, bright colors and monochrome figures. The world that Munch inhabits is much more horrifying than Holst's, but that does not make their works any more or less beautiful than the other. Both convey, through art, a distinct reaction to the changing world of the 20th century in valid and thoughtful ways.
Holst, Gustav. The Planets - 4th Movement: Jupiter.
Munch, Edvard. The Scream.