Inspired By The Dying Of The Light

Monday August 11th 2014
Nocturne in Black and Gold. JM Whistler.

Nocturne in Black and Gold. JM Whistler. (1874)

Listen to a nocturne by Frederic Chopin late at night in a darkened room — just you and the music — and your spirit is taken somewhere beautiful, melancholy, mysterious — passionate. You are immersed in emotion, and emerge in the dawn light, soul-cleansed.

There’s a lot of give in a Chopin nocturne, a looseness and fluidity to the sound, so interpretations vary enormously. The two pianists that I like best (today) are Dinu Lipatti and Brigitte Engerer. You might disagree with those choices but there’s a version of the nocturnes out there to suit everyone’s taste.

So I was intrigued to find that Lipatti, Engerer and Chopin share an important astrological signature. All three have the conjunction of Saturn (sadness) with Neptune (music), putting the meaning of this combination of energies into the tightest nutshell. This conjunction contains depth, divinity, sorrow, seriousness – and astonishing emotional power.

Chopin's other proposed birthdate is February 22

Chopin’s other proposed birthdate is February 22

Chopin’s real birthdate is not absolutely certain, but oddly the time of his birth seems to be undisputed. It is 6 in the evening on either February 22 or March 1, 1810. Either date puts the conjunction at the root of his chart, and keeps the houses the same.

It’s interesting, and maybe instructive, to look at these three charts, as the creator and the two interpreters.

Chopin was well known for his technical mastery of the piano, as you might expect with Virgo Rising, and the Sun in the 6th house. That solar placement can also be the mark of an invalid, and Chopin was unwell for most of his life. He died of tuberculosis, aged 39, when Jupiter in his guise as the angel of release, came to his ascendant for the third time in his life. Chopin’s chronic illness must have influenced everything he did. It’s hard not to hear the pain, the tenuous grasp on life in those nocturnes, and the long nights floating in and out of fever, awake.

The nocturnes describe the gossamer beauty transience and fragility of life. But at the same time, the music itself is eternal and its surely their pure emotional energy that makes this so. Surely this is described by that Neptune in fiery Sagittarius conjuncting Saturn who is the legacy we leave behind, who represents continuity and longevity.

Chiron, who brings pain and illness, conjuncts his chart ruler Mercury to the degree on the March 1 birthday. I don’t have a birth time for Lipattie or Engerer, but it’s interesting that both have Chiron-Mars conjunctions, although Lipatti’s is wide. Both pianists have Suns ruled by Mars, the planet of action, and what they did for a living was to breathe life into written notes. Their job was to vitalise. Mars is the spark of life.

And the recordings that I love very much were made when both these pianists were close to their final illnesses.

Birth time unknown

Birth time unknown

Engerer died relatively young, aged 59, after a lifetime of Gauloise smoking. Look how her Venus (art and grace) conjuncts Chopin’s Neptune-Saturn conjunction in fiery Sagittarius, and her Libran Neptune-Saturn conjuncts his North Node and opposes his passionate Jupiter in Aries. So her own Neptune-Saturn has a Venusian flavour and she imbues Chopin’s Neptune-Saturn with her own Venus.

(Engerer was famous for her musical collaborations with Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky. They played four-handed pieces together. Libra, the sign of partners.)

Like Chopin’s, her Neptune -Saturn is sextile to Pluto, but for her, the planet of transformation is in the sign of performance, Leo. Performance properly is an act of magic, a shamanic inhabiting of the music and the moment. This came to her naturally: Pluto conjunct the instinctive South Node.

To hear her play some of Chopin’s nocturnes, click here– and weep.

Then there’s Lipatti, whose Aries stellium lines up with Chopin’s Aries South Node, Pallas and Jupiter, and whose chart has the same narrow intensity as Chopin’s.

Lipatti’s stellium is fascinating. It’s led by Mercury, the communicator, and it’s in Aries, a sign which has the ability to just be in the moment, but which is also fiercely competitive. You have to be driven to be the best in order to make it on to the concert platform. The skill pulls the stellium and Chiron in Pisces bites at its tail:

Birth time unknown

Birth time unknown

Lipatti died youngest of all, at just 33 years old, after a drawn-out struggle with Hodgkin’s disease. Chiron not only propels his Aries stellium it trines his Saturn in emotional Cancer and the Neptune in Leo.

The Saturn-Neptune conjunction is also simply musical legacy but the richness of that legacy from all three musicians is written all over the charts not just in a few aspects. It’s the whole person and their life’s experience which goes into the music.

I’ll leave you to ponder the charts and the recordings yourself.

Click here to listen to Lipatti play a nocturne.




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  1. I think I would be inclined to put Chopin’s birthday in February with moon in social and often artistic Libra. I doubt that March 1st moon in Capricorn. It makes for a lot of confirmed bachelors or very business minded persons. The biggest claim of Chopin to be moon in Cap as I recall was his ruthless refusal to see or forgive his mistress and nurse George Sands on his deathbed but I think that reflects an element of Piscean confusion about her and people under final illness. Overall Chopin was pretty social and quite a lady’s man

    • Christina says:

      Good points, although he clearly suffered from depression and loneliness, which are both Cap Moon issues.
      Another argument for February is that the tr Neptune was at 2° Pisces when he died. It had not reached 10°. I like to think that the music took him. The reason I go with March 1 always is purely personal: it’s my birthday too.

  2. Louise Larchbourne says:

    I favour March 1, not because it’s my birthday 🙂 but because, from his pictures, especially the one painted by his fiancee (who broke his heart young) said to be the best likeness, he looks Capricornian, not Venusian. The music also comes over to me as having that Capricornian flavour. I considered the matter of his intense sociability, which I would expect in one with (Pisces) Sun conjunct the descendant.

  3. Pamela says:

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Isy says:

    I used to have no taste for Chopin whatever. Nor Bach. I’d rather listen to Liszt, although I really preferred Schubert and Schumann and (best of all) Rachmaninov.

    Then I got sick. It hurt, and it took from me everything I valued or thought I understood. There were nights that passed one breath at a time, no senses reliable except the sound of my own breathing, when there was nothing to do but endure. I don’t talk about it much and there weren’t too many nights like that in a row, but the Pit Years left their mark.

    In retrospect, I realized that I started developing a taste for Chopin about the time the disease first took hold. By the time I was down to those endless nights, when I heard Chopin come on, it was like a friend looking in on me and gently tucking me in.

    “Chopin’s chronic illness must have influenced everything he did. It’s hard not to hear the pain, the tenuous grasp on life in those nocturnes, and the long nights floating in and out of fever, awake.”

    Made tears start. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Well played, his music just sounds so right.

    • Isy says:

      I’ve listened to both of these indescribably beautiful clips, and again, the sense of kindness and comfort simply wraps me up and lays a gentle hand on my cheek. Perhaps it’s the truly empathic kindness of one sickie for another, floating down to me through the years as Chopin’s work flows through these late compatriots of mine… at the risk of sounding trite, I do think that profound and chronic illness is a different country, with its own language and cultural cues. These pieces give me such strength. Thank you ever so much for posting all this.

      • Christina says:

        Enjoy. I have only just found Engerer and she makes me cry, but in a good way: a release. I was listening to her on the last night of Venus in Cancer which may have had something to do with the tears.
        Fascinated by your change in musical taste. Precisely Chopin and Bach whom I’ve always found speaking directly to me. I listen to Bach and feel the notes cleaning and ordering my mind like floss. It’s an amazing sensation and stronger the older I get. I note that Bach has Neptune, Venus and Mercury in Pisces, Sun in Aries.
        I agree about chronic illness and these are messengers from that country…

  5. Reader says:

    Both of them had complicated biographies. Engerer was a Tunis born Maltese whose father held French citizenship, hence her being claimed by the French. But she ain’t no undifferentiated French. Last November I spent a couple of nights in a Budapest hotel room on whose TV set was possible to watch TV5Europe which happened to just show a documentary on Engerer’s Moscow years (she was revisiting that beloved -by her own admission- city of hers) which impressed me because at that time I didn’t realize that she passed away in 2012. I now realize that it was Engerer’s cheerfulness-cum-moribundness that kept me hooked on the TV though I was above all keen to go out and fill my lungs with the energetic air of Budapest’s boulevards.
    I then flew to Malta and bumped into an article in the English language Maltese press which was hailing Engerer as their compatriot. (Funny thing though there’s no wiki article on her in Maltese language.)
    As for Lipatti, his name does not sound very Romanian. I can confidently say that since I’m a (native) Romanian myself. My guess is that he hails from a Phanariote family (rather an Italian Phanariote than a more predictable undifferentiated Greek one) that settled in Wallachia or Moldavia.
    I think that it is this thick layer of ethnicities that accounts for the rich, complex artistic sensibility which is the hallmark of many interesting pianists to only mention Marta Argerich, Andrei Gavrilov or Helene Grimaud (herself a Corsican Berber Jewess).
    Sorry to be widely off-topic but I think the stars we are born under and our nationality/ethnicity closely relate by virtue of influencing one another. Place, geography, time, conjecture, fate: they all mould our identities and make us who we are…