A study in contrasts: F.J. Haydn (March 31, 1732) and J.S. Bach (March 21, 1865)
“Yeah, I’m a Libra, but my best friend is also a Libra, and we’re nothing alike!”
No doubt. But here’s the catch: To “be a Libra” simply means that the Sun was in the sign of Libra when you were born. When it comes to the whole astrological picture of any single person, the Sun is merely a fraction of the story. There are the Moon and 8 planets to consider, their sign placements, and where they all sit relative to each other… I could go on.
That said, the Sun is the “heart” of the chart. It is the centre of our solar system, after all; and, as an astrological symbol, it drives us strongly because it is through the fulfillment of our Sun signs’ desires that we experience our greatest satisfaction. How we do that, and what that looks like inevitably varies.
Take the sign of Aries: It seeks challenge. It likes to conquer and to lead. Strong-willed and pioneering, it pushes the envelope and needs to strike out on its own.
Now, let’s have a look at two of Classical Music’s most prominent representatives of the sign of Aries: Franz Joseph Haydn and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Both embody the typical Aries feature of the boundary pushing pioneer. Both stretched the limits of music far beyond the norms of the day. They did so in very different atmospheres, and with differing results.
Haydn knew great success in his lifetime, and his music was celebrated across Europe.
His pioneering work lay in developing long-form instrumental music, perhaps the Everest of its day — until Haydn came along, no one had figured out how to sustain a musical idea without the help of words to keep it interesting. With the Moon and Neptune in clever Gemini, Haydn could take the simplest melodies and endlessly transform and reframe them, unfolding an accessible musical journey with the effervescence and wit of a great storyteller. In doing so he laid down a blueprint for the Symphony, which would be the standard for over 200 years. This is why he became known as “Papa Haydn”. He did the same for the String Quartet (2 violins, viola, cello), conquering its lean forces to reveal a rich medium full of astonishing possibility.
In his work life, Haydn rose through the ranks in the court of one of Europe’s most prominent families, the Esterházy’s. He became the head of all the court’s musical activities — a big job, which involved not only composition, musical leadership and organization, but also the directorship of the army of musicians under him. Haydn-the-Aries took his rightful place as the boss. He was able to thrive with the Esterházy’s thanks to his Sun-conjunct-Saturn in the 8th house, which in plain English means that his particular Aries Sun understood the nature of power, and knew how to play the game with his superiors. But simply gaining power isn’t enough for an Aries. In typical fashion, Haydn became ambivalent about his own role as an “employee” and eventually broke free from the Esterházy’s to pursue success in London. He lived out the last decades of his life in great wealth, and as his own man.
BACH THE TECH GEEK
And then there’s Johann Sebastian Bach. He is without dispute high on the list of “Greatest Composers Ever”. Though Bach has surpassed Haydn in the ranks of the Musical Canon, he did not enjoy the same recognition in his lifetime. Looking at his astrological chart, this is not surprising. His planetary picture doesn’t reflect the kind of personal resources Haydn had — no aptitude for pleasing the boss, nor for winning over the public. Bach couldn’t temper his Aries bluntness, which tended to get him fired. He wrote magnificent music that is beloved today, but was practically overlooked in its time.
Bach’s Aries Sun sits in a strangely private place, the 12th house. This represents the loftiest spiritual search, also isolation and invisibility. It is a lonely place, not concerned in any way with the public, and one in which things develop in seclusion. This goes a long way towards describing the nature of Bach’s career. We can see it in his decision to leave his job writing party music for the frivolous Prince Leopold of Köthen. This grew too shallow a pursuit for him to tolerate. That’s when Bach ended up in charge of music in Leipzig. (But not before the town actively tried to convince their preferred and more famous candidate to accept the job. Christoph Graupner — ever heard of him?… I thought not.)
When it comes to the music, there is a favourite image I have of Bach: I see him as the 18th century’s equivalent of an Aries tech geek, working alone in his 12th-house bedroom for hours on end, setting challenge after impossible challenge for himself, and privately delighting in his ability to conquer each one simply for its own sake, and simply because he had the genius to do it. Like Haydn, Bach’s music is full of tricks, but not for the audience’s pleasure; they are private games that only the musician looking at the page might see (But then again, might not. I don’t think Bach would care!). What sets Bach’s works apart is that they are jaw-dropping feats of musical engineering — melodies, harmonies, and counterpoint organized with the complexity of a Chinese puzzle, all the while fully encompassing the heart, the head and the human spirit.
Haydn and Bach: Both hardworking, both single-minded, both challenge-hungry and pioneering — one in public, the other in private, but both of them figures any Aries should be proud to claim as one of their own!