Monday, April 12, 2010

Music Monday ~ 1685: A Very Good Year for Baroque

I know next to nothing about classical music in general, and even less about that known as Baroque. I was intrigued to note, though, that three of the genre's most illustrious composers were born in the same year, 1685: Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

Some clips from an article by Heuwell Tircuit, Celebrating the Giants of 1685 will put a little meat on the bones of my ignorance about these composers.

Scarlatti, Handel, and Bach make for a fine contrast of styles: Scarlatti, the super-inventive court harpsichordist; Handel, the worldly organ virtuoso and vocal giant; and Bach, the genius stuck in provincial church posts. All wrote religious compositions, but for Scarlatti and Handel the approach was decidedly secular. Handel's oratorios, for instance, are basically operas without the costumes and sets. Scarlatti's religious works — few by comparison — are largely beholden to the Neapolitan operatic style of his father, Alessandro Scarlatti. Bach's are more genuinely religious, although they often rely on secular dance formations for their rhythmic patterns.

Daring Scarlatti, sly Handel:
Scarlatti was easily the most daring and original of the three, especially in his 555 or so harpsichord sonatas. He was the Liszt of the Baroque, inventing major additions to keyboard technique that called for virtuosity even beyond that of Bach's requirements. Some of his sonatas required extremely fast, repeated notes close to that of a bowed tremolo. He is most famous for his hand crossings — one arm reaches back and forth over the other for a note or two, then goes quickly back to the normal position — a feat that is repeated any number of times in a few bars of music. He created unusual modulations that were 75 years ahead of his time, as well as amazing dissonances, and he was the first to use irregular phrase lengths that ignored the expected eight or 16 bars.

Handel's harpsichord music is not as technically demanding and aims for the public rather than the virtuoso specialists. Handel's contemporary, the historian Charles Burney, noted Handel's "sly pseudo-simplicity." That is Handel's genius: With no overt show of complexity, he can command attention with playable, delightful music that holds a wide range of feeling.

Toward the end of his life, Scarlatti had become so fat that he could no longer play his arm crossings. Handel would flaunt his wealth by walking around London with a gold walking stick.

A few notes on THE ASTROLOGY

Astrodatabank offers times of birth, but all are poorly ranked at DD or C ratings, so are unreliable. I've used 12 noon charts for ease of comparison. Moon's degree and ascendants will not be accurate. (Click on chart images to enlarge.)

First the year: 1685, the common denominator, astrologically marked by the outer, slow-moving planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. These planets would have remained in the same signs, and similar degrees, at the birth of all three composers. Uranus was in early Taurus, sign ruled by Venus, planet of the arts. Neptune, planet of creativity was undiluted in the sign of its own rulership. These two outer planets were in harmonious sextile in all three charts. Pluto was in Cancer, and not particularly relevant to the matter in hand, though Cancer, being an ultra-sensitive sign, would not have been muddying the astrological waters with any flavour of hard-core aggression in 1685.

For Bach and Handel, I'd say Pisces is key component, Scarlatti has Sun in Scorpio, another Water sign, and it is closely conjunct Jupiter, traditional ruler of Pisces....which is interesting! Sun conjunct Jupiter (the expander) could also account for what that tidbit in the extract above tells us about Scarlatti growing so fat that he could no longer do arm crossing at the piano!

There's an opposition to Sun in each chart: Jupiter opposite Sun for Bach; Saturn opposite Sun for Handel, and Uranus opposite Sun for Scarlatti. I'm not sure how that translates as a common denominator here, except to say that an opposition to natal Sun, whatever planets and signs are involved, sets up a dynamic between very different "energies". This can sometimes be problematic, but it does hold the possibility of drawing the best from both, and in these three instances, I'd say the composers had obviously managed to do so, at least in their professional lives.
Scarlatti's Sun-Uranus opposition clearly reflects his more daring and inventive style, as mentioned in the extract above, for Uranus represents all that is new and unexpected.

Johann Sebastian Bach born 31 March 1685 in Eisenach.

George Frideric Handel born 5 March 1685 (Old Style =23 February) in Halle, Prussia (Germany).

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti born 26 October 1685 in Naples, Italy.

A modern example of Baroque: Bach's Air on a G String adapted - for the harmonica, would you believe?

Clip from How Music Works with Howard Goodall.
Oroh Angiama performs J S Bach's Air on a G String accompanied by Philip Achille on harmonica and Howard Goodall on Hammond organ.


Wisewebwoman said...

Thanks for all of this, T. I'm a baroque NUT. Love all of them, with a slight preference for Handel. He truly puts me in a good mood.

Twilight said...

WWW ~ You're very welcome! :-)
It's not really my cup of tea, though I do enjoy some of the well known pieces whenever they come up on radio.

cimbalok said...

There is an error in Bach's date of birth. He was born March 21, not 31. How much does this change things? I am a Bach junkie, especially crazy about his cantatas.

Twilight said...

cimbalok ~~ Hi there!

Now - there's much opportunity for confusion when deciding on proper birth dates during 17th century or earlier because of calendar changes from Julian (Old Style) to Gregorian (New Style).
Countries changed over at different points. In the case of the area of Germany where Bach was born, it seems they didn't change over to New Style dating until 1700

There's lots information on the topic of his birth date at this website - you might find it of interest:

Astrodatabank has 31 March, and they are very reliably accurate for astro purposes! New Style dates are the ones we have to use in astrology, I have assumed from their lead.

It's a confusing situation though!

If after looking at the above site you still would like to see a chart for 21 March, just let me know here. :-)