I love Baroque music. So too do many great musicians of our age. Jimmy Hendrix once talked about being visited by Handel in a dream. (Oh to have been a fly on the wall for that Conversation!) Prog rock artists from ELP to Jethro Tull, Genesis and others take inspiration (and, at times, license) from Baroque compositions. But no band so fully embodied the aesthetics of the Baroque as Yes, ground zero for where my taste in popular music intersects with The Professor’s. Admittedly, it might be a stretch to call Yes’ musical output “popular”, but for ease of categorization I use only three musical genres: formal, popular and jazz, which remains, unfortunately, neither formal nor popular.
But I digress. Yes’ music is so interesting because they draw from such a wide range of influences. Jon Anderson (Sibelius, Stravinsky, Greig) and Steve Howe (Dowland, Vivaldi, Bach) are responsible for many of my favorite Yes compositions. Bill Bruford was influenced by the complex rhythms in Bartok’s music, while Rick Wakeman incorporates dozens of composers, from the Renaissance through to the present day into his compositions (Bach, Brahms and Prokofiev being notable presences in his music). But in the end, their music is decidedly Baroque in character: big, loud and over the top.
Awaken, from their 1977 album Going for the One, is one of Yes’ very best compositions and the one that shows their debt to Baroque composers most clearly. Wakeman played a church organ on the track, which was recorded live in a small church in Switzerland near where the band was recording the album. There is a full choral part, as well as a harp. But this is just window dressing. The Baroque DNA comes out in the composition: The band cycles through the circle of fifths twice and the climaxes and modulations are straight out of the Handel playbook.
The Baroque endures.