Monday, November 29, 2010

Music Monday ~ John Philip Sousa & Transit of Venus

I'm no fan of military marching music - too much connection with warlike goings-on for my taste, but searching around for a Music Monday "victim" I happened across a reference to The Transit of Venus March by John Philip Sousa. That bears some investigation!

(NOTE: A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth, obscuring a small portion of the solar disk. During a transit, Venus can be seen from Earth as a small black disk moving across the face of the Sun.
Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena and currently occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.)

Wikipedia tells about The Transit of Venus March :
One year after the 1882 Transit of Venus, Sousa was commissioned to compose a processional for the unveiling of a bronze statue of American physicist Joseph Henry, who had died in 1878. Henry, who had developed the first electric motor, was also the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

As a Freemason, Sousa was fascinated by what the group considered mystical qualities in natural phenomena. According to Sten Odenwald of the NASA IMAGE Science Center, this played a significant role in the selection of the time and date of the performance, April 19, 1883, at 4:00 P.M. Dr. Odenwald points out that Venus and Mars, invisible to the participants, were setting in the west. At the same time, the moon, Uranus, and Virgo were rising in the east, Saturn had crossed the meridian, and Jupiter was directly overhead. According to Masonic lore, Venus was associated with the element copper, and Joseph Henry had used large quantities of copper to build his electric motors.

The Transit of Venus March never caught on during Sousa's lifetime. It went unplayed for more than 100 years after Sousa's copies of the music were destroyed in a flood. As reported in The Washington Post, Library of Congress employee Loras Schissel recently found copies of the old sheet music for Venus "languishing in the library's files". The piece was resurrected recently, in time for the 2004 Transit.

Sousa's best known marches are familiar to most of us: The Liberty Bell, Semper Fidelis,The Stars And Stripes Forever and The Washington Post. I've added a video of a version of The Liberty Bell which has a link to something far removed from the military and war.

Sousa was born on 6 November 1854 in Washington DC. His natal chart is available at Astrodatabank HERE.

His Sun (self) and Venus (art/music) are found in Scorpio, and here perhaps is the source of his gravitation to a chosen music style. Scorpio is the sign ruled traditionally by Mars with its links to war and aggression. Scorpio's modern ruler, Pluto, has darkish connections too. To be fair, though, I should note also that Sousa wrote operas and musical suites as well as military marches.

Sousa's natal Moon lay in Gemini as he was born - which links nicely to his writing skills. He wrote three novels and a full length autobiography as well as many articles on a variety of topics. He was in the vanguard of the reactionary camp in the music piracy wars of his era in which authors of sheet music railed against the upstart recording industry. In a submission to a congressional hearing in 1906, he argued that:
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy ... in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
I wonder what Sousa would make of the present musical landscape?

Sousa's music crops up in some rather unexpected places. Remember this?


Wisewebwoman said...

foardslyI'm internet challenged today T, so can't hear/see much, only sporadic uncertain service.
I consider Sousa so very very American so this Venus composition was a total shock.
I like how you earth such wonderful trivia!

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Oh dear - hope it improves for you soon. Maybe weather-related?

Marches are probably my least favourite type of music, but they have their place I guess. The Venus Transit connection was my deciding factor, otherwise Sousa wouldn't have had a look-in. ;-)