Happy Flute Friday/Saturday (oops)! Earlier this week I celebrated a birthday and I began to consider how various traits associated with my Scorpio astrological sign find their way into my professional and creative life. I am a very focus individual and have been known in the past to drill short passages in the practice room until they are burned into my memory and intense enough to stay up until all hours of the morning (with a rather large can of Red Bull) to make sure my blog is posted as close to “on time” as possible. Scorpios are workaholics. Scorpios are also very passionate. One of my favorite subjects to discuss with my students is the use of vibrato and how to produce fiery, intense “red” vibrato during the climax of a piece and hollow or “yellow” vibrato in contrast at softer, more introspective moments. Understanding how these traits manifest in my own life, I found myself wondering if dissecting a composer’s work based on their astrological sign may help us to understand possible creative influences and the “why” behind many of the most significant pieces in the Western canon of Classical Music.
You may think astrology is made up hogwash. To each his own. I certainly am not trying to suggest that astrological influences are facts nor do I believe they are the only motivations behind the work of a composer. I do think, however, they may offer us some personal insights as to the why a piece was written the way it was written. I will only be focusing on each composer’s sun sign (no rising signs, moon signs, mars placements, etc.) but if you are interested I would love to discuss other possible astrological aspects to a composer’s birth chart and how they manifest in their music.
Let’s start off with 2 of the 3 B’s:
Beethoven – Although there is no known date for his birth, Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany on December 17, 1770 and most scholars have accepted December 16, 1770 as his most likely date of birth. This makes him a Sagittarius. The archers of the zodiac, Sagittarians are known risk takers who love their freedom and have a very biting sense of humor. They are curious about all subjects under the sun and are extremely idealistic. Impatient at times, Sagittarians are very blunt/tactless and tend to say what they mean and mean what they say no matter who they offend or what conventions they may break. They are also optimistic and do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals in life. Obviously many of these traits explain Beethoven to a tee (blunt, tactless, risk taker) but they can most certainly be found in several his symphonic works. The Third Symphony (“Eroica”) is a Sagittarian work through and through. Here we find Beethoven breaking traditional symphonic form and taking risks by introducing a new theme in the development section of the opening movement (whaaat???). He also interjects his sense of humor with the false entrance of the recapitulation in the horn before the orchestra concludes the development. The dedication of this work, originally to Napoleon but scratched off the page by Beethoven after Napoleon crowned himself emperor, also displays Beethoven’s Sagittarian temper and bluntness (aka don’t mess with Ludwig!). The 6th Symphony “Pastoral” shows Beethoven as an optimist and interested in creating idealistic musical environments. Finally, the 9th symphony breaks all the rules by disguising the border between symphony and chorale. “Ode to Joy.” Is there a more optimistic subject than joy?
J.S. Bach – Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, present-day Germany on March 31,1685. Bach was an Aries, the quintessential productive boss of the zodiac. Aries are competitive yet energetic and extremely courageous. Although they are a bit impatient and take action before thinking things through, they are very organized and born leaders. These characteristics embody many of Bach’s fugal works (The Art of Counterpoint, The Musical Offering, etc.). Voices “compete” with each other in a fugue while the music remains in constant motion. Bach does not write 1 fugue – he writes a collection of 24 in prolific Aries style. Bach does not stay idle nor does his music. His style is built upon great attention to musical organization and his compositions have made him the “boss” of the Baroque era.
And let’s add an M:
Mozart – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria making him an Aquarius. I have known quite a few Aquarians in my time and this one seems to hit the nail on the head. Aquarians like to think about the larger picture and dream big but do not really like delving into the details. Aquarians are also quite humorous and enjoy mocking others. Most importantly, they are the rebels of the zodiac. Ruled by Uranus, Aquarians gravitate towards unconventional ideas and prefer to work independently. I do not know about you but when I think of a “rebel” composer, the first name that pops into my mind is Mozart. Mozart did what he wanted and wrote what he wanted in the language he wanted. Classical music owes its most witty, large scale works to the Mozart opera buffa collection (Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, etc.) while his opera seria works embody Mozart’s rebellious nature (Don Giovanni is often considered as a rebellious reaction to his own father’s passing). Mozart’s compositions make us smile through witt and humor and help us to conceive music as a cohesive work of art regardless of how unconventional they were thought to be during his lifetime.
And our favorite W:
Wagner – Wagner was born on May 22, 1813 in Leipzig, Germany therefore he was a Gemini. Geminis are the gossips of the zodiac. Quick witted and creative, a Gemini loves to talk about anything and everything. Geminis become bored fairly easily and oftentimes are emotionally aloof. Perhaps this is due to the twin personality represented by the sign which may indicate a dual conflict between thoughts and feelings. We all know Wagner loved to talk and did so even when his opinions were outlandish and inappropriate. When we think about his use of leitmotivs in the Ring cycle (which, let’s face it, is a 16-hour long story/conversation) we find that they are used primarily to keep the conversation going even when there are no words in the dialog by interjecting references to thoughts, places people and objects. He referred to recitative in many of his music-dramas as Sprechgesang, or “sung speech” and his libretti as “poems.” Wagner’s many letters, writings and operatic works suggest that the love of speech shared by many fellow Gemini was also present in his creative endeavors.
This blog post could go on forever as we look at different composers and the stereotypical traits associated with each astrological sign. Be on the lookout for a Part II in future weeks! Who is your favorite composer? Can you find traces of their astrological traits in their compositions? Do you have a new understanding of their compositional style by looking at their sun signs? Do you disagree? Do you think astrology has no place in music? Please share your thoughts below!