Stephen Sondheim (1930 – 2021) 

“Isn’t it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground
You in mid-air
Send in the clowns”

~ Stephen Sondheim

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, winner of several Tony awards, died this week, at the age of 91.  He played a crucial role in the development of the musical, and West Side Story, for which he wrote the lyrics, is often hailed as the best musical of all time.  The iconic songs from that musical, such as Maria, Somewhere, and Tonight, are etched in the collective musical mind.  He also helped to create Gypsy, A Little Night Music (from which notably Send in the Clowns was born), and Sweeney Todd, and he even had a hand in the more recent Hamilton through his mentee Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Birth Chart

Sondheim had the Sun in Aries in his 5th House of Creativity.  The Sun was unaspected, which can indicate a free spirit.  His parents separated when he was ten years old, and he lived with his mother.  The Moon in his chart was exactly square his natal Venus – he didn’t get on with his mother.  His Moon was also exactly conjunct Saturn – I call this the “Ivory Tower” – in 3rd House, he had no siblings, and by all accounts led a lonely and isolated childhood.  The Moon closely square Uranus and opposing Pluto added even more to his isolation.  These aspects produced a double square of Moon/Saturn to Venus/Uranus.  His North Node (karmic mission) was conjunct Chiron in Taurus, the sign of Music.  Mercury was trine Pluto in his chart, producing a deep thinker.  Venus was sextile Jupiter – for all his emotional isolation, he loved people.  Otherwise, his relationship problems showed up as Venus closely square Saturn (which can mean disappointment in love), Venus conjunct Uranus (unusual attractions, but also social magnetism), and Venus square Pluto (turbulent relationships).  Venus exactly trine his Midheaven  in Leo pointed to an outstanding musical contribution in his career.  He had Mars square Jupiter – great enthusiasm allied with energy, and Jupiter exactly sextile Uranus in 6th House (the Entrepreneur Archetype).

Life and Career

Isn’t it bliss?
Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around
One who can’t move
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns

Sondheim was born in New York, New York.  His mother was a dress designer and his father manufactured the dresses.  It was a shock to Stephen when his father left his mother for another woman, and he found his mother psychologically abusive, taking out her anger on him. Around the time his parents separated, he became friends with the son of Oscar Hammerstein.  The latter became a substitute father figure, and a musical mentor.  He put him through his paces in writing musicals, though critical of the results but showing him where he went wrong. Sondheim then took theatre studies at college in Massachussetts.

His big break occurred when he was invited to work on West Side Story as a lyricist with Leonard Bernstein.  This show was of course based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As a musical, it was groundbreaking in its drama and passion.  The show opened on 26th September 1957, with Jupiter trine his natal Jupiter (a great success), Jupiter opposite his natal Uranus (a surprise), Uranus sextile his natal Jupiter (a surprise success) and Uranus trine his natal Uranus (the power of surprise, and sudden success).  Thus was his natal Entrepreneur (Jupiter sextile Uranus) well and truly activated!  This magical union of Bernstein and Sondheim was shown in their birthcharts through Bernstein’s Sun conjunct Sondheim Neptune (mutual inspiration), their Marses exactly trine (often a good sign of working together in synastry) and Bernstein’s Mars on Sondheim’s Ascendant/South Node, Bernstein being a great motivator for Sondheim, but also showing a karmic imperative.

His next opportunity was an invitation to write the lyrics for Gypsy, based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoirs. Sondheim was hesitant as he did not want to be known just as a lyricist, but Hammerstein advised him to take the opportunity.  Sadly, his mentor Hammerstein died shortly after, in 1960.  This was a traumatic moment for Sondheim, as they had such a strong bond.

Relationship with Oscar Hammerstein

Just when I stopped
Opening doors
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours
Making my entrance again with my usual flair

Astrologically, Stephen and his mentor were close: Hammerstein’s Ascendant was exactly conjunct Sondheim’s Pluto, so they made a huge impact on each other.  Hammerstein’s Mercury and Venus conjunction (the Songwriter) was exactly trine Sondheim’s North Node, a karmic handing down of musical writing tradition.  Oscar’s death was marked by Sondheim’s Saturn Return (a coming of age), with Saturn square Sondheim’s Venus (the loss of a loved one) and Neptune on Sondheim’s Ascendant (confusion over identity).

Further work and collaboration

Don’t you love a farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry my dear
But where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns

The creation of musicals had its ups and downs, not all succeeded.  But with Hal Prince, in 1973, came another highlight in his career: A Little Night Music, which opened on 25th February of that year.  It received the best reception.  With Saturn sextile his natal Midheaven (career point) in his 10th House, his reputation was stabilized.  The song “Send in the Clowns” became iconic: in recent days I have seen it sung by Judy Dench, Millicent Martin and even Elizabeth Taylor.  But Judy Collins’ version in 1975 was my favourite, really bringing out its beauty.  It was originally written for the part played by Glynis Johns, with her husky, breathy voice, evoking the poignancy of the piece.

Later collaborators were James Lapine (notably, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (on a Spanish version of West Side Story, and on developing the hit show Hamilton).


Send in the clowns
Don’t bother
They’re here

Sondheim did not come out as gay until the age of 40, at his Uranus Opposition (the mid-life crisis and rebellion).  He had had relationships with the actress Lee Remick, the actor Anthony Perkins, and a dramatist Peter Jones.  He more latterly found love with Jeffrey Scott Romley, whom he married in 2017.

I was aged 11 when the film of “West Side Story” came out.  It seemed radical and new.  For many of us, Sondheim’s vast body of music has been a soundtrack to our lives.

“Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career
Where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns
Well, maybe next year”

~ Stephen Sondheim


Today, the Sun conjoins Mercury at 6 degrees Sagittarius.  It is a good day generally to apply your mind with clarity, concentrate and focus,  and make important statements.  The focus may be on your own growth and potential and physical wellbeing.  Mentally you may see things clearly, if egocentrically.  Creatively, this is a very helpful conjunction: If you are writing a play, for instance, the perfect line could come to you.  It also supports global vision and interests.

Tomorrow (Monday 29th) Mars will be trine Neptune, under which the spiritual warrior flourishes.  You can combine your passions with your spiritual path.  Meditation with movement is favoured, e.g. yoga, tai chi and qijong.  Peaceful demonstrations also chime well with this aspect.  I myself have a chiropody/podiatry appointment, which is perfect, as Neptune rules the feet.  Why not treat yourself to a foot treatment or pampering of some sort, even if home made, with a bowl of warm water and some foot lotion to hand!

The self-care theme continues the same day with a trine between Mercury and Chiron, so the day has real healing potential.  This aspect is all about finding solutions, especially in health matters.  Mercury trine Chiron describes healing on a mental level (positive thinking, writing and affirmations), and helps to combine conventional and alternative or complementary healing approaches.

With a sextile of Saturn to Mercury on Tuesday (30th) there is a chance that Geminis and Virgos may experience this as a better week altogether, aspects to their ruler Mercury being fairly congenial.  Thoughts and feelings can be channelled and harnessed into constructive plans and ideas.  Mental foundations can be laid.  The aspect favours documentation and knuckling down to form-filling etc.

The theme of healing returns with the Sun trine Chiron.  Healing is illuminated by clarity, and solutions may appear to conundrums which have been recently aired.  There is a sense of wholeness about this aspect.  Creativity and healing have a symbiotic relationship under this aspect.

Two more positive sextiles then follow, on the same day.  First, Venus sextiles Neptune, to soothing waves of serenity and heightened inspiration, which hopefully you may experience.  People may come more into tune with each other.  New artistic avenues may flourish, having found ingenious ways for people to share art, music and performance (though some restrictions may now be about to return, with the discovery of the Omicron variant of covid).

Lastly, on Tuesday, the Sun sextiles Saturn which could ground some of the inspiration and bring it into reality.  Practical initiatives are supported by this aspect.  It is a good aspect for setting up solid foundations, for instance.

So, you see, Tuesday is a day real progress can be made.

The gift from Neptune, on the first day of December (Wednesday1st), is its Direct motion.  If you have felt confused of late, there is a chance for more clarity, certainty, inspiration and spirituality.  If  you felt your feet were treading water, then your  path could be on surer ground.  It is an opportunity to fine tune relationships, art, or spiritual practices.  After the turnaround has been achieved you may detect greater flow and movement.  Interactions may be subtle, but subtlety can be powerful.

We end the week with a New Moon and Eclipse (a Solar Eclipse) at 12 degrees Sagittarius on Saturday (4th).  New Moons tend to be upbeat, and Sagittarian New Moons more upbeat than most, focussing on expansion, the planning of holidays, deep study and learning, global issues, and matters of faith.  Re-play your affirmations, with more confidence.  You can have powerful inner conversations under this New Moon.  Eclipses can be dramatic, and contain the seeds of events for the forthcoming 6 months, which often makes them turning points.

The week in bullet points:

  • Today – mental clarity and expansion
  • Tomorrow – self care: good foot work; and healing
  • Tuesday – potential for progress: focus and concentration; more healing; inspiration and beauty; positive grounding of reality
  • Wednesday – more clarity and inspiration, movement forward
  • Saturday – new beginning and turning point