A review of a compilation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.Johann Sebastian Bach – The Very Best Of Bach (2005) — The Ultimate Music Library
On this day, November 22, 1913 English composer, conductor, and pianist. Edward Benjamin Britten was born He was a central figure of 20th-century British music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral […]Edward Benjamin Britten [1913-1976] — Marina Kanavaki
When we talk about classical music today, 19th and early 20th century French romantic composer, pianist and organist, Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, may not figure in the highest echelons in terms of outright popularity.
Ok, so he isn’t Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, nor Schubert, Schuman or Wagner, but in astrological terms, much deeper than the mere superfluous realm of ‘star signs’, he makes a most interesting study indeed.
This fellow Saint-Saëns was certainly a remarkable child prodigy and composer, whose musical abilities did appear to come rather easily to him. Anyone who could produce works of the quality of, for example, ‘Danse Macabre’, ‘Carneval Des Animaux’ and ‘Samson & Delilah’, must certainly qualify as being near to the pinnacle of their profession.
He went on to be a very well travelled international figure, as well as being highly honoured, receiving the French Grand Cross of Legion d’Honneur in 1913. He was also inspirational; Faure and Ravel were both strongly influenced by him, for example.
By the age of 6 this prodigy was already composing, performing as a pianist by the time he was 10. He entered the Paris Conservatoire aged 13 and composed his first symphony when he was 18.
Saint-Saëns became quite a scholar of musical history, too, developing a more conservative, traditional approach to compositional structure, something which set him against the more modern trends of the early 20th century, which evidently wanted to turn everything on its head, as in other artistic fields such as painting.
Controversy and tragedy affected him too at times. Marrying later in life, to a much younger woman (to the surprise of those who knew him) the relationship would appear to have always been difficult, or strained. Nevertheless, the couple had two sons. However, in 1878 an appalling tragedy struck when the 2 year old Andre fell to his death from their Parisian flat window.
Tragedy & Disappearance
Only six weeks later, young Jean Francois died of pneumonia. This effectively ended their marriage. In 1881 whilst on holiday with his wife, he suddenly disappeared, later writing her a letter of explanation — that we would not be coming back. Even so, the couple never divorced. Speculation has remained as to Saint-Saëns’ sexuality.
Overall, however, this remarkable man led a very successful and productive life. I was intrigued to come across his birth data, so that I could assess him astrologically.
One of the most remarkable features of his chart is the positive placement of most planets. In traditional astrology, a planet is said to be exalted, or function at its best, in certain signs. In Saint-Saëns’ case, he has Saturn exalted in Libra, the Moon exalted in Taurus and Jupiter exalted in Cancer. Would might this mean in terms of interpretation?
Let’s begin with Saturn in Libra. Saturn, often still called the Greater Malefic, signifies limitation, boundaries, structure; in Libra, the Cardinal Air sign, this function is well reasoned, balanced in the most positive way. I will return to Saturn shortly.
Then we have the Moon exalted in Taurus. The Moon represents our responses, emotions, feelings; in Taurus (also ruled by Venus like Libra), these qualities are at their most grounded and fruitful.
We now turn to Jupiter, the Greater Benefic, exalted in Cancer. Jupiter is expansion, optimism; in Cancer, ruled by the Moon, expansion is given a nourishing, homely expression, like a blessing upon the base of our lives, quite often our mainspring for success in life.
A Charming, though Dignified Bearing
What is more, Saint-Saëns had other planets which were ‘dignified’. What do I mean? Dignity in astrological terms refers to a planet being in the sign of its rulership.
Firstly, he has Venus in Libra, the principal of unity given a highly balanced and considered expression; an ideal of beauty, balance and peace.
Then he also has Mars in Scorpio, which it traditionally rules. I personally do not subscribe to the ‘modern’ notion that outer planet Pluto rules Scorpio. Mars is energy, activity; in Scorpio, the Martian energy is concentrated, somewhat emotive, and also secretive — yet even so, well placed if one wishes to achieve something deeper, meaningful.
So what are we to make of all this ‘positivity’, the level of which I haven’t come across too many times before? Overall, it may represent the positive gifts he was born with, Saint-Saëns’ ability to create, seemingly with ease and with the blessings of his local universe.
Let us now return to Saturn, which was rising conjunct the ascending degree in Libra, closely followed by his Sun and Venus in the same sign of the Scales. A Libran ascendant is courteous, diplomatic, often charming, yet with Saturn so close to this degree, one would expect a certain amount of caution too, perhaps manifesting as a kind of dignity in the manner and appearance, which might seem at times like a little shyness, reticence, even haughtiness.
Conservatism, Good Fortune & Fixed Stars
As said above, limiting and conservative Saturn is indeed ‘exalted’ in Libra, so it is not surprising that later in life he grew to be noted for his conservative outlook, plus the deliberately structured nature of most of his works. He tended to favour the more traditional compositional styles in the long run, even though as a younger composer, he accepted the then ‘modern’ trends of such men as Wagner, without truly embracing what they stood for.
At this point I would like to introduce the fixed star, Spica, which is also conjunct the ascendant and close to Saturn. I have only recently begun to reintroduce certain fixed stars (the 15 Behenian Fixed Stars) into my method of interpretation — I think they can be highly significant.
Spica, traditionally, is said to be of the nature of Venus and Mars, a star of good fortune. This is thought to confer general happiness, honour and preferment. If we take out his short lived marriage and the major life changing tragedy of his young sons, Saint-Saëns’ life in general was very fortunate.
Keen Student of Musical History
This fixed star is also close to Saturn, conferring interests in the occult and history too. It is known that he was a keen student of musical history, which had a strong influence upon his compositional style.
Saint-Saëns’ Sun conjunct Venus in the Libra ascendant, would only underline the charm, diplomacy and overall affability of his personage. There would also be a certain amount of sophistication about his presence too, attention to his appearance, probably a liking for traditional fashion (Saturn in Libra conjunct ascendant) and being ‘just so’.
With all this Libra in his chart, he would certainly have craved company too; he might not have felt whole without a ‘partner’ in life. So it is perhaps a surprise that he did not marry until he was around 40. Some have speculated about his sexuality, although it could simply be that he was rather fussy; Librans often have trouble making up their minds, being seekers of perfection with high ideals.
Humour & Magnanimity
His exalted Moon in Taurus would provide relatively stable emotions, pleasant responses to stimuli, perhaps underlining the conservative streak. However, his Moon is also in good sextile aspect to the equally exalted Jupiter in Cancer.
I think there would have been a distinctly good humoured and magnanimous quality about him too, that would have been highly beneficial to him in his career, for Jupiter is housed in his career house and his exalted Moon is ruler of that 10th house. He was fortunate.
Jupiter is also the planet of expansion and projection, physically and mentally. Saint-Saëns became highly travelled through his lifetime, making 179 trips to 27 countries, an astonishing tally.
Much Travel & A Well Developed Mentality
This Jupiter is also close to the fixed star Sirius, generally considered another positive indication. This infers much travel in the career, usually by sea (Jupiter in Cancer), plus a generally caring nature.
His dignified Mars in Scorpio is conjunct communicative Mercury in the 2nd house, ruler of the 9th house of philosophy, the higher mind and travel. This gave him a highly powerful, penetrating, determined and energetic mentality, probably an endless curiosity too, which drove him on in his practical working life. Mars is also the ruler of this house: This was no day dreamer — he wanted practical results. As a young student he was highly proficient in many profound subjects and had a particular love of astronomy throughout his life.
That Trying T-Square
If I may turn to the less positive aspects of his known life, namely the failed late marriage and his sons’ untimely demises, it may be symbolised in what is known as a T-square formation, involving his first house Sun and Venus in Libra, opposite Pluto in the 7th house, both squaring (90 degrees) Jupiter in the 10th house. This is certainly an indication that all would not be plain sailing in personal relationships, which would certainly impinge upon his career and aims.
As I have stated before, these days I do not see the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as at all positive influences. They are not ‘higher octaves’, as they were once deemed: if anything they are lower, baser influences. They have to be overcome, indicating areas of our life where there could be potential pit falls, or worse.
Potential Disruption in Troubled Relationships
Pluto in the 7th house certainly forewarns one of marriage and/or partnership disruption, especially so as the same planet is opposite (challenging aspect) the harmony seeking Sun and Venus in Libra in his first house; Pluto is directly threatening potential termination, if one is not careful.
I would also imagine that personal relationship issues, such as those indicated by this Sun and Venus opposite Pluto, would have also threatened his career, and also the stability of home and family life: Exalted Jupiter in Cancer is in itself an overall indication of good fortune in family concerns, but maybe serious relationships, such as marriage, constituted a threat.
To Marry, or not to Marry
It is easy to say in retrospect, of course, but would it have been advisable for him not to have married? Did the conventions of the day ‘force’ him into doing what every one else did? He was, after all, quite a conservative in many ways.
Equally, we have the presence of the other two outer planets, Uranus and Neptune in the 5th house of children, speculation and creativity. The potential to have ‘problems’ with offspring are indicated here; Uranus can turn things upside down with sudden, unexpected events; Neptune confuses issues, although no one could have envisaged the tragedy that befell his young family. And whilst controlling Saturn forms a loose positive trine aspect with Uranus, which might have lessened the impact of the rebellious planet, the potential negativity of Uranus would still be there.
I found Saint-Saëns the most fascinating character to study. I have to say that I really like him; I am sure he would have been most agreeable to meet, to talk to, to be simply be around.
Most of all, we can all still enjoy the quality of his compositions.
Copyright Francis Barker 2020
It could be argued that pianist and conductor Sergei Prokofiev was the most popular composer of the 2oth Century. Writing such entrancing classics as ‘Peter and the Wolf’, ‘Lieutenant Kije’ and the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ballet, there’s little wonder he is so loved now, even if he wasn’t appreciated all the time in his native USSR.
Based on his known birth data, can we begin to deduce what made this musical genius tick?
Born in Ukraine in 1891, Sergei’s musical ability was discovered early. In 1900 aged only nine years he wrote his first piano score for opera.
In 1904 he went to the prestigious St Petersburg Conservatory where he was to shine. He established an early reputation for thinking outside of the box. He was an innovator of music, a revolutionary not afraid of change.
He was brilliant at many forms of classical music too, writing seven operas, seven symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, a cello concerto, a symphony for cello and orchestra and nine piano sonatas. Yet of all these disciplines, opera appears to have been his favourite.
Prokofiev was a sun Taurean in basic terms, the major luminary being placed in the eighth astrological house of shared security. The Bull is ruled by musical, creative Venus and has produced many a great composer.
Yet Taurus is traditional, not a radical at all. Mercury’s presence in Taurus in the same house indicates that his basic mentality worked along similarly practical, functional lines, with an interest in investing his time profitably.
Prokofiev’s choice of subject was certainly traditional, yet if his instinct for melody and beauty may partly derive from his Taurean essence, what drove him to such heights of innovation?
Magician in the Mix
When he was born the cardinal air sign of Libra was rising, which is also ruled by Venus. Libra is diplomatic, generally courteous, often with an artistic flair, so we may assume that Sergei was rather pleasant to meet and easy going.
His Moon is also in this sign, indicating a strong need to be liked socially and keen to meet people. However, Uranus the ‘Magician’ is close to the Moon in his first house, and this may give us the first clue to his revolutionary personality and approach. So whilst being an attractive person, he was also somewhat unusual, eccentric, disruptive in some way.
Selfless Unity in Sound
Let’s look at the important planet of Venus, ruler of the chart and of his sun sign. We find Venus in Pisces, sign of its exaltation, where the uniting principle works at its most selfless.
Venus is in the sixth house of work and efficiency, so this is where this beautifully placed Venusian energy expressed itself, in his day to day activities, bringing beauty in the form of sound to everyone who may care to listen. I am particularly reminded here of Prokofiev’s lovely ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and how effective his choice of melody and intrument are in telling the old tale.
We find another intriguing layer to this complex man in his ninth house of the higher mind and travel. Here are housed Mars, Neptune, the Moon’s north node and Pluto, all within five degrees of early Gemini.
An Interesting Vibration
This conjunction is an interesting vibration. Neptune, as I have discovered previously, is very often prominent in some way in the charts of creative people, particularly musicians and composers. Music does, after all, have ways of touching the soul that other creative forms cannot.
This coupled with Mars in Gemini lends much mental and dexterous energy and expression to Neptune’s other worldly inspiration. Add Pluto to the mix and we have a higher mind of much depth as well as creative diversity.
So here too is a man whose philosophy of life is crucial to him, yet difficult, for the north node’s position here indicates that contemplating wider issues did not necessarily come that easy to him but was one he had to embrace. We know he left Russia during the 1918 revolution, living elsewhere, including the USA and France, until he finally returned in 1933.
Ethical Problems and Loneliness
I think the close opposition of Jupiter to Saturn on his sixth/twelfth house axis also reveals the deeper ethical problems he must have encountered on leaving his native land in 1918, probably feeling that circumstances were hardly going to be conducive to his livelihood.
This strongly hints of periods of intense loneliness and isolation, especially when being ‘out of favour’.
Indeed, several of his works were banned by the Soviets after his return, they being deemed not suitable for the new communistic philosophy and culture. Nevertheless, a few years after his death in 1953, his general reputation at home in the USSR was restored.
A beautiful Debussy podcast by Oannes. Τρία Πρελούδια από το Δεύτερο Βιβλίο του Claude Debussy.Αποδίδει συναρπαστικά ο Φινλανδός πιανίστας Paavali …Claude Debussy : Préludes Book II – performed by Paavali Jumppanen
One of England’s greatest composers, Benjamin Britten composed some of the most memorable music of the 20th century.
So let’s take a quick look at his birth chart. He has Cancer rising, with a wide Mars Neptune conjunction near the ascending degree, the latter being closely trine his Sun and a retrograde Mercury on either side of the Scorpio/Sagittarius cusp. Sounds complicated?
As I have noted before, Neptune is very often prominent in some way in the charts of creative artists and composers.
I suspect this is the source of much inspiration. Britten was from Lowestoft in Suffolk in the east of England, he was brought up by the sea and had a strong connection to it. One of his most famous pieces, the opera ‘Peter Grimes’ was inspired by this.
Neptune in Cancer in his first house symbolises this, with the added emotional force of Mars, which may have been difficult to control at times.
In my own mind, I equate that wonderful sound in music of the rolling waves releasing on the beach from the ‘Four Sea Interludes‘ of ‘Peter Grimes’, to the Neptune Mars in Cancer conjunction. It’s beautiful, imaginative, and slightly disquieting. Neptune’s supportive connection to the Sun will give him further innate sensitivity.
Retrograde Mercury thinking out of the box
I am also interested by the Sun conjunct a retrograde Mercury bestriding the Scorpio Sagittarius cusp, in houses 5 and 6.
It’s almost like a confusion of identity here, where the mental processes are turned more inwardly, unusually, and ‘out of the box’, and where the sense of self (the Sun in last minute of Scorpio) is always looking beyond but never quite getting there.
In some sense this may have been another prime reason for him becoming a composer and musician, in that the challenges of expressing thought conventionally with the retrograde Mercury, can be given over to creative, musical inspiration, expressed through ways alluded to above.
Strong attachment to roots
Mars is also ruler of houses 5 and 10, giving much energetic support and a link between his creativity and career path. And it is interesting to note that he was a fine conductor and pianist too.
His ruler, the Moon, is in Virgo in house 3 but very close to the Nadir of the chart, trine to Jupiter. He clearly has a strong emotional connection to his roots, probably his mother, and he never lost that sense of ‘belonging’ to the Suffolk coast.
However, in Virgo the Moon is quite fastidious, supported by a more circumspect Jupiter in Capricorn, a quality which will certainly help the art of putting all that inspiration from Neptune down on paper.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
The Proms begin today, July 19, perhaps the quintessential British cultural event, held each year in several venues in London between July and September, though most notably at The Royal Albert Hall.
The word proms is in fact a shortening of the term Promenade Concerts, a cultural phenomena which had its origins in 18th century London, which took place in pleasure gardens where the spectators were allowed to move around the orchestras. The word promenade is a borrowing from the French language, meaning to walk.
Music for the masses
In the 19th century this style of concert moved indoors as well, leading eventually to the establishment of ‘The Proms’ on August 10 1895 at the Queens Hall, Langham Place by the well known impresario, Robert Newman.
The idea was to offer the experience of classical music to the general public, with lower ticket prices in an informal setting. It has to be said that the idea worked, with a comprehensive schedule of performances spanning over two months.
However, the Proms do have their detractors. For instance, I have heard it said more than once that they are too English. Whilst there is certainly a great deal of flag waving, a cursory look at the famous ‘Last Night of the Proms’, will reveal flags from all over the world.
What is more, much time and energy has been put in to diversifying the content, with the inclusion of world music, as well as folk music from all over Great Britain and Ireland.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
Recently a new memorial to Spalding’s WWII dead was unveiled.
It is a masterful, yet understated and fitting tribute to those who gave their lives in the most devastating conflict yet known to mankind.
It is also a fine complement to Edwin Lutyens’ earlier, more classically styled WW1 memorial, just a few yards away.
Every May the West Lindsey region of northern Lincolnshire opens the doors of its churches to visitors for two weekends – the West Lindsey Churches Festival.
Pictured above is Scothern church, quite small but beautiful, the whole churchyard raised a few feet above the surrounding area of the village.
Once inside we had the usual very warm welcome, with residents sharing information about the church, the village, their lives in general. And of course we had to partake in the coffee and cake on offer.
What made Scothern a little unusual was the organ and piano recitals going on over the weekend.
Another interesting feature was the exhibition of childhood toys.
And perhaps the greatest feature of the church is the wonderful 16th century Dutch panel painting called ‘The Adoration of the Magi’.
With Tchaikovsky also born on this day in 1840, this middle period of Taurus is evidently fertile ground for great musicians and composers.
Born in Hamburg in northern Germany, many aspects of his life and personality are reflected in his birth chart. He is said to have been both an innovator and a traditionalist. I believe we can see the latter in his Sun in Taurus, which though artistic (ruled by Venus), favours the more conventional elements of art and music. His Capricorn Midheaven and Saturn in Virgo, trine his Sun in Taurus in the 6th house, strongly hints at a highly structured, methodical approach to work and career. The latter too probably accounts for his meticulousness and perfectionism which are often referred to. He famously destroyed some of his work, or at least left it unpublished.
However, where might his so called innovative and romantic side stem from? Well, he has Aries rising, which likes to plough new furrows and which traditionally means the ruler of the chart is Mars, which finds itself in emotional, romantic Cancer – which also, incidentally, is conjunct the north node of the Moon in the 4th house: I think he clearly followed the path he was supposed to take.
Even more though, he has a tight Mercury Jupiter conjunction in Aries conjunct the ascendant, sextile Uranus in Aquarius and trine a wide ranging Moon in Sagittarius. Here is the precocious, talented child, a bundle of creative energy and, probably, a very ‘difficult’ child too. Here is great manual dexterity, innovation, flare and sheer raw talent rolled into one. Some might call it genius. Venus in Gemini trine Neptune also evokes an easy romanticism and someone truly inspired at times.
So little wonder then that Johannes Brahms is considered one of the all time greats, to rank alongside Beethoven and Bach.
Photo by Gimmeges on Pexels.com[/caption
Tchaikovsky, born today in 1840, remains one of my favourite composers, who embodied Russia and his times.
My particular favourite is his Serenade for Strings in C major from 1880, actually the first piece of music I ever heard on CD.