August 30, 2006

Composer mourns Pluto’s planetary demotion

By Mike Collett-White

VENICE (Reuters) - British composer Colin Matthews has more reason than most to mourn the demotion of Pluto from planet to mere "dwarf planet."

In 2000 he released "Pluto," an addition to Gustav Holst's famous seven-part orchestral suite "The Planets," which in 1917 included seven of eight officially recognized planets at the time.

According to Matthews, Earth was not a part of the composition because it has no astrological significance, while Pluto was discovered four years before Holst's death in 1930.

With a single vote last week, astronomers from around the world expelled Pluto from the planetary party it had crashed decades earlier, because its oblong orbit overlaps Neptune's.

Matthews, who was on holiday when the decision was made, discovered Pluto's fate in a newspaper at Rome airport.

When asked how he felt at the time, he replied: "A certain amount of disappointment, as when I left to go on holiday the news had been quite the opposite."

There had been speculation before last Thursday's decision that astronomers would in fact spare Pluto.

But Matthews was not entirely surprised.

"In my original program note I wrote 'the matter of Pluto's status as a planet has for some time been in doubt -- it may well be reclassified ... as no more than an asteroid'," he said in e-mailed responses to questions.

"So yes, I knew it might happen from the beginning, but at least it was officially a planet when I wrote the piece!"

He said he had no plans to write any more extra movements to Holst's work, even if another celestial body took Pluto's place as the ninth official planet alongside Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

But at least Pluto, the orchestral work, will be preserved for posterity, with a new recording by label EMI featuring the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Simon Rattle out this week.

"There are a few performances (of The Planets) ahead, and I hope Pluto isn't withdrawn from them," Matthews said.