His Classical Side- his Love of Mediaeval and Renaissance Music
by Prof. Cyrus Manasseh PhD
There has always seemed to be something very dark and perhaps even mysterious about guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who was a man who very often had dressed in black and continued to do so. This original, spontaneous riff master had always seemed to have played in a fiery and intuitive way, filling his music with a dark, almost sinister, and penetrating energy.
A serious musician, with a unique style and sound, he has been important for so many great musicians like Uli Jon Roth, Yngwie Malmsteen and more rock guitarists and groups than any would care to admit helping create and pioneer a genre and style of rock music throughout the 1970's and 1980's called 'neoclassical' (see for example, guitarists Randy Rhoads, Tony MacAlpine, John Petrucci, Wolf Hoffmann, Vinnie Moore, Timo Tolkki, Marty Friedman and Jason Becker). Although it would seem that he is not talked about very much these days, at least in comparison with Page or Clapton, Blackmore is highly respected among many of rock music's finest musicians.
In his often dark, penetrating and sinister sound, (especially before forming the band Blackmore's Night with his wife Candice), one very often hears his guitar solos filled with Classical Baroque influence. In fact, his chromaticism and arpeggiated runs which go up and down the neck often reveal his interest in composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart and Beethoven. His live performance contributions to Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra (written by keyboardist Jon Lord, much of which had sounded like Sibelius) at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969, also shows this. Here, while he had sounded as if he had been doing his best to throw in as many rock riffs as he could, his affection and understanding of classical ideas in his playing could certainly be heard and at the concert he had performed with exemplary classical finesse.
In the following year, in an era in popular music of mostly rock, pop and psychedelic sounds, his classically influenced guitar solo on the song "Mandrake Root" from Shades of Deep Purple, as well as his chromaticism on "Hard Lovin Man" from Deep Purple's album Deep Purple In Rock (1970), had showcased how much he has always loved classical music. In fact, Ritchie's love of classical music again appeared on Deep Purple's Machine Head album in the following year and one can hear it on the guitar solo he had played on "Highway Star" on his Fender Stratocaster guitar. In this masterpiece of playing, after the keyboard solo, which was bursting with a classically influenced chromaticism, we hear Mozart-influenced arpeggios in Ritchie's sequence after the D minor pentatonic opening of his solo, which moves from D Minor, to G Minor and then to A Minor, which he then follows with a similar descending fiery chromaticism echoing Lord's earlier keyboard runs. Another example of this classical focus can be heard in his guitar solo in the Deep Purple song "Mistreated" from the album Burn where Ritchie's great feeling for the classical again also begins to creep in.
After leaving Deep Purple Mark III, and forming Rainbow with the gothic and mediaeval-sounding singer, Ronnie James Dio, Ritchie's love for playing classically influenced guitar seemed to increase. From this time on, his love of the classical which had always been in him, became even more and more, or rather, came out more and more. Increasingly, with Rainbow, his classical ideas and motifs would weave their way into especially his live performances with the band. In many ways, while his rock guitar playing sounded darker and darker and heavier, the increasing amount of his classical playing style, which could increasingly be heard at Rainbow's concerts, seemed to become more melodic and softer sounding and medieval and renaissance music could be heard in his playing. In addition to his instrumental soloing in the middle of Rainbow's concerts, always containing the influence of classical ideas, which had sounded even more this way, his playing pieces by Bach and Beethoven which he combined with renaissance pieces like his 16th century "Greensleeves" on stage into a single performance became more and more prominent. In fact, Ritchie had explained in an interview that his love of this style had begun as far back as 1972 when he had heard the David Munrow Early Music Consort playing music written for Henry VIII's wives.
After this, it would not be surprising that he took to the style of music he has been performing in Blackmore's Night, which is a music project he has been involved in for longer than any other. With Blackmore's Night, which Ritchie formed in 1997, he took this love to new heights. In this new vehicle for his ideas, he took on the role of a fully-fledged minstrel, appearing to go renaissance and mediaeval all the way. With his wife Candice, who was also passionate about renaissance music supplying vocals and woodwinds, Ritchie added to the playing of his Stratocaster, acoustic guitar, hurdy gurdy, an instrument called mandola – like a larger tenor mandolin- as well as nycklelharpe, a keyed fiddle. The band play in European castles tours, renaissance fairs and festivals where all, including Ritchie, dress in period costume (living Ritchie's dream). Having existed for twenty-three years, it would be Ritchie's longest music project, and on stage various mediaeval and renaissance songs can be heard including among others, parts of Carl Orff's medieval masterpiece "Carmina Burana."
Blackmore it now seems is in his element doing what seems he really wants to do. Occasionally, on stage with Blackmore's Night, he will play an electric guitar solo, but tempers his playing so that it will not destroy the feeling he now prefers to manifest for the audience. In this music, he seems to be truly happy. The music now seems to allow him to feel free and to truly be himself. Although the music of his previous bands was always filled by his fluid rock and roll abilities, it sometimes had been as if he had been more ill at ease then. Yet with Blackmore's Night, it is as if he now seems to have found what he has always been searching for all along.
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