Thirty years ago, before most of the genres of popular electronic music had evolved, there were only a few musicians that incorporated electronic instruments into their music. One of those early pioneers was Rick Wakeman. Wakeman pioneered the use of synthesizers in the world of progressive art-rock. The Six Wives of Henry VIII is one of the best examples of his work.
As one of the keyboard gods of prog-rock, Wakeman carved out his own style. Wakeman surrounded himself with stacks of keyboards, including grand piano, organ, two Minimoogs, two Mellotrons and even a harpsichord. Wakeman used the various keyboards to expand his palette, allowing him to create orchestral-like textures.
Wakeman described the music on The Six Wives of Henry VIII as “my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII.” The liner notes even include brief biographies of each. This heady concept was typical of progressive rock music of the times. At its core, though, the music is not explicitly tied to Wakeman’s concept.
The music is a set of keyboard-heavy prog-rock tracks. Wakeman explores several moods and emotions, mixing the harmonies of rock with late 19th century romantic music. The music is melodic and colorful, but also often has the frenetic, jagged texture of early English prog-rock. Listening to The Six Wives of Henry VIII, one can hear the voice that Wakeman brought to Yes.
Wakeman’s compositions are tightly focused, and the tracks are relatively short for prog-rock. Some of the highlights are the classical organ work on Jane Seymour, and rock organ work on Anne of Cleves. Anne Boleyn is notable, too, for the way Wakeman uses his full range of keyboards to create a variety of textures and conjure up an orchestra of sounds.
At times, The Six Wives of Henry VIII is like a time capsule. The sudden tempo switches, emphasis on virtuosic flourishes, and harpsichord place this music firmly in the early seventies. The early prog-rock musicians used Minimoog primarily to allow the keyboardist to solo like electric guitarists, rather than to create new types of music. On the other hand, Wakeman never fails to ignite the keyboards with his solos, and his multi-keyboard chops are always impressive. When Wakeman cuts loose, the music rocks.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII stands up as some of Wakeman’s best work, and some of the best progressive rock music of the seventies.
Rick Wakeman, piano, Hammond C3 Organ, mini-moogs, mellotrons, electric piano, harpsichord, A.R.P. synthesizer; Mike Egan, guitar; Alan White, drums; Dave Winter, bass; Frank Ricotti, percussion; with Les Hurdle, bass; Chas Cronk, bass; Chris Squire, bass; Dave Lambert, guitar; Steve Howe, guitar; David Cousins, electric banjo; Bill Bruford, drums; Barry de Souza, drums; Ray Cooper, percussion; Liza Strike, vocal; Laura Lee, vocal; Barry St. John, vocal; Sylvia McNeill, vocal; Judy Powell, vocal
- Catherine of Aragon [3:44]
- Anne of Cleves [7:53]
- Catherine Howard [6:35]
- Jane Seymour [4:46]
- Anne Boleyn ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’ [6:32]
- Catherine Parr [7:06]