Billboard #1 Hits: #359: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”- Elton John. January 4, 1974. #1 for 2 weeks in Billboard Hot 100. The first #1 hit of 1975. Single: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”- Elton John Record Company- MCA Genre: Psychedelic Pop Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney Time: 5:54 B-side” One […]
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.
Any album which followed Joni Mitchell’s groundbreaking 1971 album ‘Blue’, still considered to be her best by many, would have difficulty in competing with such brilliant, heartfelt songs and musicianship.
Predictably, Mitchell’s 1972 release of ‘For The Roses’ (Asylum), did indeed seem to underwhelm by comparison. Even the title of the album does not exactly inspire one as much as the emphatic ‘Blue’, unless you happened to be a gardener or a seeker of some bucolic escape. Nevertheless, I have to say I find this album something of a sleeper.
I, like many, first became aware of Joni Mitchell with songs like ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, songs which made you stop, listen and take notice. Then along came ‘Blue’ and the plaudits, rightly, went bananas. Then, at least to me at the time, a youngster barely in his teens, there seemed to be a bit of a lull. Suddenly it was 1974 and the wondrous ‘Court and Spark’ was released, another groundbreaking collections of songs. Somewhere in the middle of all that came ‘For The Roses’. It has only been over the last fifteen years or so that I have come to appreciate how good this album is.
And it turns out the album’s name and character did indeed indicate the singer songwriter’s partial retreat from the hurly burly of superstar life. So here are songs perhaps less intense than ‘Blue’, but reflective of a different inner life, the beginning of her more observational, anecdotal story telling songs which have become so much a trademark of her later career.
The opening track ‘Banquet’ sets the tone firmly, yet gently, indicating her retreat from all the pandemonium, stepping down towards the shoreline and taking a wider philosophical look at life and all its absurdities. Here too I can sense the true beginning of her more jazz-folk inspired trajectory, followed up in the next acoustic guitar driven track, ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’.
If the first two tracks evoke a certain subjective melancholy, track three, the more upbeat ‘Barangril’, really brings out Mitchell’s great gift of taking an everyday snippet of daily life and turning it into a timeless masterpiece of modern Americana.
‘Lesson in Survival’ returns to the reflective melancholy, but beautifully so. Few songwriters, one would imagine, have ever been so well read. The wish for escape is overpowering. ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ continues with the theme, but gives us more than a glimpse of parental influences, how they seem to us as we age when we realise Mum and Dad were not perfect either. I love the little jazzy flourishes with the voices and wind instruments in this song, something she would continue to perfect in later albums. In this song they evoke the whistles of steamers.
Wild Canadian Expanse
It has been said before (probably by me previously too) that Russian composers like Rachmaninov can’t help but sound like the vastness of the Russian Steppes. I think the same goes for more contemporary Canadian composers too, particularly Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. In ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ I can hear the vast open plains of central Canada where she was brought up and also the equally wide Pacific Ocean off California.
‘For the Roses’, the title track, is an understated guitar song of exquisite guitar work and minimal arrangement, critiquing the lifestyle she has become accustomed to and which she is now eschewing. ‘See You Sometime’ is more straightforward, reflecting on former loves, their lifestyles, in a major key, leaving open the possibility of staying friends.
‘Electricity’ is a beautiful guitar track, spanning this transition period. ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ might also have appeared on an earlier album, but served the purpose of being a catchy hit single from this album.
‘Blonde in the Bleachers’ definitely looks forward, another anecdotal snippet finding meaning: It transforms beautifully in the middle to a more soft rock number with sophistication. ‘Woman of Heart of Mind’ really does sound to me like it was composed a year or so prior to the album’s release – it is, nevertheless, beautiful and understated.
The final track, ‘Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s tune)’, is probably the most sophisticated piano based track on the album, Joni leaving us typically with a philosophical view based on much reflection. The arrangement of wind and strings is also tasteful.
Overall, this is still one of my ‘go to’ albums. It helps me relax and reflect, probably the desire of the composer at this particular juncture in her life. It is generally understated and certainly not her best offering – yet it is still a great album in my view.
Becoming a fan of BBC Radio 3 has increased my appreciation of classical music, and about time, too.
I have always had a soft spot for Vaughan Williams, and his 5th symphony is just wonderful… as is the 3rd… as is Tallis… as is Lark Ascending…
Anyway, that said, I never thought I would be a fan of Bach’s Cello Suites. Solo cello? Absolutely wonderful.
And neither had I heard Mussorgsky’s PIctures at an Exhibition as solo piano, the original in fact, before it was orchestrated by Ravel.
It all goes to show that there are always more world’s to be revealed. All you have to do is look.