The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’

Carnival occurs before the liturgical season of Lent. The main events typically occur during February or early March, during the period historically known as Shrovetide (or Pre-Lent).

Carnevale di Venezia 2017 runs February 11th through February 28th. Click here for a list of for top 10 Italian towns that celebrate carnival.

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
from a letter Alessandro Stradella, protagonist of my novel A House Near Luccoli, wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

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It was actually a few weeks later that one of the most legendary, talented, and yet long undervalued Baroque composers arrived in Genoa, highly welcomed despite the scandals and even crimes that forced him to flee Rome, Venice and Turin. It would be where he would not only spend Carnevale 1678, but also make his home and more masterpieces and messes for the next four years.

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Old Painting of Genoa

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
stradellwide~ from a letter Alessandro Stradella wrote to
Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678

 

According to the Christian calendar, Carnevale occurs between January 6th (Epiphany/Three Kings Day) and the day before Ash Wednesday. Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday) is the final and often most excessive festival of Carnevale—a last opportunity to make merry and even immoral before Lenten prohibitions.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

Old Illustration of Carnival in Venice. Created by Janet-Lange

Carnevale found popularity in the city of Rome in the seventeenth century, a rider-less horse race down the Via del Corso eventually abandoned for slightly less dangerous activities. Viareggio a city on the Ligurian Sea is known for putting on one of the longest celebration, holding parades with elaborate floats.

Carnevale is about being there,” the face of the disguise was surprisingly soft against hers, its ribbons tied at the back of her head, “as anyone but yourself.”
~ A House Near Luccoli

To this day every town in Italy, even the smallest, has its Carnevale parade along with dancing, masquerading and feasting.

Traditionally, Carnevale offered the opportunity for role reversals: between men and women, nobility and commoners. A key element was the class hierarchy set upside-down, so those that normally didn’t have power might temporarily take on the identities of those that did.

Pierrot was at his own pace ahead. Alessandro never expected his servant to behave dutifully and wouldn’t have enjoyed him as much if he had, making fun and opportunity of his negligence.

“Hey, Maestro. I’m higher than you.” Golone’s voice was victorious at the top of the tower Alessandro had failed to conquer.

 “Yet I have farther to fall.”

~ A House Near Luccoli

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The origins of Carnevale itself can be traced to ancient pagan rites involving face and body painting for dancing and chanting in honor of the transition from winter to spring. The Egyptians enjoyed similar revelries held in honor of Isis. In Italy Carnevale hearkens back to the practices of the ancient Greeks in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, and the Roman Empire’s homage of Saturn, the god of agriculture and the harvest. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church’s attempts to eradicate the festival were unsuccessful and, eventually, it was assimilated into the Christian calendar as a last celebration before Lent. To this day, many local customs are based on pre-Christian rituals as well as medieval folk culture.

They might have flown down to the street, trailing the parade less and less distinct from the crowd swollen like a woman with child who couldn’t avoid shame whether legitimate or not. Suddenly Alessandro’s handling of street songs in his confident tenor drew more attention and applause.

“Sing. As I know you can,” he demanded of her.

She couldn’t refuse him anything, not even the embarrassment of singing in the midst of more people than she had seen in her entire life. There was nothing familiar about the songs everyone else seemed to know, the dialect one she had rarely heard and barely understood.

Bravo my gattino.” Alessandro’s carnival face leaned close to hers.

Before she could be pleased he gave into his proclivity for trying to seduce all the ladies open to him, which seemed to be the youngest and prettiest, although painted masks, high feathers, and low dresses might have made them more attractive than they were. It was amazing she didn’t lose him there and then, the surge even more chaotic on its way back towards the ducal palace and into its square that embraced everyone and anyone on Martedi Grasso
~ A House Near Luccoli

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

Art Comedia

Commedia dell’ Arte: Improvisational Theatre

The Commedia dell’ Arte masks were popular from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, traveling troupes setting up a stage to perform improvisational plays that touched upon political and social issues, often by satirizing the human frailties of adultery, jealousy, old age, and love. The masks used in these performances have become part of the Carnevale tradition.

Bravo! Bravo! All the city is a stage.” He directed common chaos with more investment than a cantata, enjoying the artlessness in the strumming, plucking, piping and cranking, banging on pots, and singing from throats. He was even more excited by jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers, fire-eaters, monkeys, magicians, pickpockets, and pimps keeping a close eye on their harlots but also virgins with crowns and bouquets of flowers.

 arlecchino

capitano

pierrot

pulcinella

zanni

dottore-peste

Nothing personified the spirit of Carnevale more than the Commedia dell’Arte characters of Pulcinella, Zanni, and Arlechino like puppets on strings.

“I should’ve brought my violino. Then we would be the cat and the fiddle.”
~ A House Near Luccoli

 

blue_cat_mask

She was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air. Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again.

“And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.” Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ A House Near Luccoli

venice-carnival-history-masks-auto-europe

There is a saying:

A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale.”

“Anything goes at Carnival.”

Carnevale is a time for letting down one’s guard, for mischief and pranks, for Fare uno scherzo (pull a joke on someone). In A House Near Luccoli, the reckless composer Alessandro Stradella discovers that even in disguise during the playful mania of Martedi Grasso, ridiculing the wrong person creates consequences.

Command as much as invitation hurried them across a marbled floor and up a double staircase, at the top a privileged and premeditated Carnevale custom-made in the finest fabricated layers, cock feathers and conceit sweeping and strutting and posing. The loggias were crowded with an entitled few increased by association. Shamelessness was bulging and dazzling, hedonism heightened and ambivalent in hair and shoes and sexuality, thin laughter and heavy scents. Music was a background to drinking and talking and dancing. There were even more daring activities in public rooms where heads lifted, shoulders turned, masks stared gorgeous and grotesque; a sense all the underhandedness of the city was there.
~ A House Near Luccoli

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Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of Silence Happens and Being Human: Little Thoughts of Love, Nature, Peace, Freedom, and Love

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It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey
To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

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donatellasmallest© 2017 Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Playing with Ambition (Remembering Gabey)

Below the first image is a repost about one of the greatest loves of my life …

It has been almost two weeks since I lost my beloved Gabey-kitty, leaving a large hole in my heart and space in my life that had been so sweetly and feistily and affectionately filled by his physical presence for 13 1/2 years. I miss those sparkling amber eyes that looked into my soul and his confidence in his own magnificence and just all those little ways and means that were specific to him. His kitty brother and “cousins” are feeling his absence as profoundly as we are, breaking my heart a little more when they look for him or at me asking “Why?”, but they are also mending it, filling the deep sense of loss with their individual precious presences. Comforting and caring for them is a way to actively do the same for myself. And, through their natural awareness of the energy of the non-physical, they are a constant reminder that, although Gabey’s mortal body is no longer here with me, his pure, loving, blessed spirit can never be absent as long as I stay in touch with my better self.

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Playing with Ambition

He makes a grab for my pen, puffing his cheeks, twinkling his eyes, smiling if he could. It’s not that he wants me to stop writing, at least not in the long term, for it keeps me captivated and close to him. He likes to interrupt my ambition, a playful swipe over the page I stare at for a thought too good to miss if only it would come.

He came, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, with topaz eyes and quick sharp teeth, infecting my hand and heart with feisty vulnerability. Then he was gone, taken as I allowed, others to care for him better. Except I wasn’t convinced, traveling far and near to find the dirt road and unclear path to making him mine.

No one wanted him like I did. Certainly not those who had more than they could handle, separating themselves from his beauty as I thought impossible. In my arms he pretended he didn’t know me, hadn’t tempted and tasted me, too young a fellow to know he shouldn’t cry. I assured him that a love like mine, patient and doting, was all he needed. Slowly he believed, fed on fairy tales and fancy feasts.

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

And now he’s only for losing if eternity fails us. At times he prefers his own space and I’m more distracted than when he steals my pen and chance for inspiration. Somehow I always convince him to lie again at my feet—on my feet, warming them, massaging them, numbing them, until he notices my papers set aside. He moves up the bed for undivided attention, licking my cheek, nuzzling my ear before smothering me with his love, his gingery mane blinding me as his unexplained pleasure eases my doubts.  

Then it’s all too serious for him. He makes a grab for what is still in my hand, holding it in his teeth, his head and shoulders performing a tango. I laugh though not too loud for it is the middle of the night. We dance for a few moments longer, light on our feet with no need to exercise more than our imaginations.

“The cat is the animal to whom the Creator gave the biggest eye, the softest fur, the most supremely delicate nostrils, a mobile ear, an unrivaled paw and a curved claw borrowed from the rose-tree.” – Colette (French Novelist, 1873 – 1954)

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©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

In Memory of a Happy Day in January

Today I’m commemorating the birth of Anne Brontë
January 17, 1820
youngest sister of Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell Brontë
and subject of my upcoming novel,
very near completion:
Without the Veil Between ©

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after) engraving Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after)
engraving
Private Collection
The Stapleton Collection
English, out of copyright

This is a revamp of a post I did last January. Since that time, not only has my novel developed and grown well past my initial expectations (as has my admiration and affection for the youngest of the Brontë sisters), but a new biography about Anne by Nick Holland, In Search of Anne Brontë, has been released in the both the UK and US in hardback and Kindle editions (it’s due to be published in paperback in May 2017)

My review of In Search of Anne Brontë

My first encounter with the Brontës began at the age of ten or eleven when my mother gave me her beautiful 1946 editions of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” with columned text and exquisite engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. Eventually, I discovered there was another author-sister in the family, the youngest, Anne. From the multitude of documentaries about the Brontës, movies based on Charlotte’s and Emily’s books, and even, as an English major, classic literature courses in school, it was all too easy to overlook Anne’s presence in and influence on literature and the Brontë story.

A travesty, indeed!

Quietly enduring, persevering, unpretentious people often don’t come across as accomplished or potentially so. As a writer myself, I’m constantly drawn to creative figures in history that somehow and for whatever reasons have been set aside as less important and appealing than others. In researching my own Anne Brontë project, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover so many others motivated to make Anne’s more intimate acquaintance. Following in the footsteps of Winifred Gerin and Edward Chitham, Nick Holland, an active member of the Brontë Society, has turned his fascination with Anne into an eloquent, informative, affecting, and perceptive biography that like his blog, annebronte.org, is another important step in bringing her out of disregard and misconception.

There will always remain secrets about Anne Brontë. All of her childhood writings and most of her letters have been lost. Mr. Holland has drawn from documented facts, the interpretations of other biographers, diary papers Anne and Emily wrote, Charlotte’s letters and recorded remembrances, but, also, essentially, Anne’s verse and prose writing that offer many clues to who she was, why she wrote as she did, and how she lived and died.

“In Search of Anne Brontë” is a sensitively formed account of her life, the book’s slow, reflective, and conscientiously investigative style apropos to Anne’s character, intellect, and spirit. There is clarity and affection in its pages, an engaging examination of how her surroundings and relationships shaped, challenged and inspired her, a confirmation of her gentle, introspective, spiritual, mediating character. Anyone who gets to know Anne Brontë as thoroughly as Mr. Holland has, realizes there was so much more to her, including a strength and individualism that took her away from Haworth and family to do her duty; which resulted in the channeling of her expanded awareness and experience into the honesty, prowess, and courage of her poetry and novels.

As Mr. Holland and other Anne Brontë aficionados appreciate, she was endearing for her quiet, sweet, kind manner, but going in deeper lifts her out of the shadows cast by her more well-known and dramatic sisters and brother and the often over-emphasized isolation and tragedy of their lives. Yes, Anne’s life was brief and at times difficult, a struggle with loneliness, self-doubt and loss, but also full of imagination, love, music, nature, friendship, freedom and discovery. It was, after all, fully lived. If you haven’t read any other biography about Anne Brontë, this one is a perfect way to be introduced to her. If you have, you will, as I did, find Mr. Holland’s fresh perspective, devoted understanding and intense respect for his subject make you even more appreciative of what a remarkably intelligent, caring, brave, and beyond-her-time woman and writer she was.

Another new biography Take Courage, Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis has been just released in the UK in hardback and Kindle. A copy is on its way across the pond to me!

Of course, I’m not the only one noting the importance to Brontë aficionados of this day in January. Nick Holland has once again put together a lovely post on his blog devoted to Anne and all things Brontë. Please follow the link to: Happy Birthday Anne Brontë – 197 Today!

In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland - Cover for Paperback edition to be released in May 2017

In Search of Anne Bronte by Nick Holland – Cover for Paperback edition to be released in May 2017

#Bronte200 is the Bronte Society‘s five-year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings (who lived beyond childhood): Charlotte in 2016 (of course just completed and a resounding success), Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020.

Long-suffering, self-denying, reflective, and intelligent, a constitutional reserve and taciturnity placed and kept her in the shade, and covered her mind, and especially her feelings, with a sort of nun-like veil, which was rarely lifted.

I came across the above quote from Charlotte Brontë (whose view of her youngest sister is probably not always the most reliable source for a true understanding of Anne) long after I had already settled on the title Without the Veil Between, which I actually took from the last verse of Anne’s poem:

In Memory of a Happy Day in February by Anne Brontë

Blessed be Thou for all the joy
My soul has felt today!
O let its memory stay with me
And never pass away!

I was alone, for those I loved
Were far away from me,
The sun shone on the withered grass,
The wind blew fresh and free.

Was it the smile of early spring
That made my bosom glow?
‘Twas sweet, but neither sun nor wind
Could raise my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight,
All vague and undefined?
No, ’twas a rapture deep and strong,
Expanding in the mind!

Was it a sanguine view of life
And all its transient bliss
A hope of bright prosperity?
O no, it was not this!

It was a glimpse of truth divine
Unto my spirit given
Illumined by a ray of light
That shone direct from heaven!

I felt there was a God on high
By whom all things were made.
I saw His wisdom and his power
In all his works displayed.

But most throughout the moral world
I saw his glory shine;
I saw His wisdom infinite,
His mercy all divine.

Deep secrets of his providence
In darkness long concealed
Unto the vision of my soul
Were graciously revealed.

But while I wondered and adored
His wisdom so divine,
I did not tremble at his power,
I felt that God was mine.

I knew that my Redeemer lived,
I did not fear to die;
Full sure that I should rise again
To immortality.

I longed to view that bliss divine
  Which eye hath never seen,
Like Moses, I would see His face
  Without the veil between.

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To continue the celebration of Anne’s birth day …

I offer you a couple of excerpts containing my interpretation of a journey to London Anne took with her sister Charlotte in July 1848 to see – surprise – their (well, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’s) publishers:

From Chapter Nineteen of Without the Veil Between ©

What a journey they had undertaken with only a few hours preparation and no time for planning around wet weather if such a thing was possible in the West Yorkshire climate. John Brown was able to find a lad with a cart who for one and six was willing to take their small trunk to Keighley station ahead of them. They had something to eat and drink before they set out with their father’s blessing despite his concerns about them walking into the threat of rain and traveling to and being in London alone.

“We’ve done it all before, Papa,” Charlotte reminded him with a squeeze of his hand, while forgetting Anne had never been to London or even out of her home county, except on long Pennine-rolling walks that lured her into Lancashire.

Anne almost backed out when her father bowed down for her to kiss him on the cheek and she realized Emily, who had been standing behind him, no longer was. Another opinion of Anne’s leaving came from Flossy who sat on her feet, leaned against her legs and looked up with begging eyes. Keeper could be heard barking in the back yard the way he did when Emily played fetch with him, possibly an explanation of where she had gone. Anne caught a glimpse of Branwell on the stairs.

By then Charlotte was adamant they must be on their way. “Even now I’m not sure we’ll avoid a soaking or catch the six-twenty train from Keighley to Leeds. If we don’t we’ll miss the overnight to London and our plans will be in disarray.”

Impulses not plans, Anne thought but knew better than to remark, already preparing herself to be understated during the days ahead. The last time Anne had been en route with Charlotte, she was a sickly, uncertain, inexperienced school girl. Of course, much had changed, but Charlotte still thought she knew better and expected Anne’s compliance.

As the parsonage door closed, Anne could hear their father telling them to take care and Flossy whining. They walked as quickly as they could holding hooded cloaks over their bonneted heads and around their bodies, not for warmth as the air was hot and heavy, but to prevent their hair and clothes from being messed by the wind that blew in spotty showers before they were half-an-hour towards Keighley. At first Anne pretended not to mind the rain. She was, however, uneasy when lightning branched through the sky over Oakworth down, flashing more frequently as it came closer, eventually in a vivid cloud-to-ground strike no more than half a mile ahead.

***

Anne wished the trip was less of a “mission” and more of an adventure for her sister. At least Charlotte gave into extravagance as Anne on her own probably wouldn’t have, purchasing first class tickets from Leeds to London. Even in a plush upholstered and carpeted carriage that was private much of the way, Anne couldn’t sleep, nor did they talk more than was necessary, so she might assume Charlotte dozed on and off. There wasn’t enough light for reading or air for breathing; it was an express train, no stops for exercise other than standing up and pulling down the window to be no wiser about where they were. Hour after hour, through dusk and darkness, Anne occupied herself by remembering passages from the bible and enjoying the idleness, composing scenarios for her living and writing to come. Eventually, weariness prompted her to close her eyes and try to nap. It seemed she did, until Charlotte’s voice disturbed her dreamy traveling with William, a loving and lawful companion, his hand holding hers, her head on his shoulder.

“I’m getting a headache. It’s the humidity. No doubt both will get worse in London.”

Just as it seemed the night and train journey would never end, they were headed into the sunrise, mist and steam screening the passing countryside that, from what they could see of it, was fairly flat and distantly forested. The dawn wasn’t yet fully realized when they arrived at Euston Station. At barely four-thirty in the morning it was, as they expected, lonely and hardly safe, and the same must be true of the streets beyond the depot’s Doric arch. They were glad the promise made at the Leeds ticket booth allowing them to remain on the train when it was pulled off the main track for cleaning and reloading with coal, at least until seven, was honored.

Finally there was enough daylight to read—or write, Anne deciding to make a little progress on her response to the critical complaints and utter misrepresentation of Tenant since its publication in late June.

“What’s that?” Charlotte asked.

“Oh, nothing of consequence.”

Charlotte didn’t inquire further, Anne considerately and selfishly submitting to her sister’s need to stay quiet and nurse her head while she could.

Entrance to Euston Station, London, c 1840s

Entrance to Euston Station, London, c 1840s

 

I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.
~ Anne Brontë, from her introduction to the second edition of
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Title-page of the first edition, 1848

Happy Birthday, Anne Brontë
and
thank you
for one of the most extraordinary, if exhausting,

writing experiences of my life!

 

donatellasmallest© 2017 Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

The Music of Friends: Cadences and Temperaments

The term “The Music of Friends” to describe chamber music (1550 to 1750, music characterized by the location of its performance: outdoors, on stage, in church, or in private quarters), was, per Wikipedia, first used by Richard Walthew in a lecture published in South Place Institute, London, in 1909.

Keeping true to A House Near Luccoli, much of the foundation of To A Strange Somewhere Fled relies heavily on music as expression. The cadences and temperaments of compositions are reflected in Denton’s pacing as well as her confidently executed freedom of narrative … revelations are made, characters introduced, and emotions uncovered with unexpected swells and surges of expression.
~ from review by Casee Marie Clow, Literary Inklings

The musical players of To A Strange Somewhere Fled 

Henry Purcell (10 September 1659 – 21 November 1695)

220px-Henry_Purcell_by_John_Closterman

Purcell by John Closterman

It was during my research for A House Near Luccoli that I came upon the claim, noted in the introduction to Purcell Studies edited by Curtis Price, that Henry Purcell had openly regretted Alessandro Stradella’s death and, because of the Italian’s “great merit as a musician”, forgiven his fatal indiscretions.  True or not, it stirred me to somehow bring the celebrated English composer into fictional Donatella’s continuing story, and on reading Roger North’s assertion that the high point of his musical experience was entertaining the ‘divine’ Purcell, I was even more inspired to do so.

Henry Purcell was as obscure a figure as Alessandro Stradella in terms of how little about his personal life was recorded. Despite his legacy of being a uniquely English composer, he enjoyed and sometimes emulated the Italian style. He met his end at a younger age than Stradella and in a way that left as much conjecture as to why. Was it chocolate poisoning, the result of pneumonia brought on by being locked out of his house by his wife after a night of drinking, or ‘just’ tuberculosis?

He came from a very musical family. His father, who died when Henry was a small child and his uncle, who became his guardian, were members of the Chapel Royal. His brother Daniel was also a composer. Henry had been a child chorister; his earliest known work was probably completed when he was ten or eleven.

The English maestro enters the pages of To A Strange Somewhere Fled at age twenty-four, already appreciated for his celebratory, church, theatrical, instrumental, and incidental music, and overcoming the constraints of the English language to write songs that perfectly complemented the poetry they were inspired by. In 1683 he was an organist for Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal and about to publish his first collection and be appointed royal instrument keeper.

He was a man of sorrows as well as joy—of six children born to him and his wife, only two survived to adulthood—his copious creations defining him as the scarce accounts of his life never could.

The Italians

After the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, Italian composers and performers arrived in England to find a welcome and work, some in the court of Charles II where lively, lavish, and constantly evolving entertainment was encouraged, while others visited for brief or extended periods or settled into being employed in or outside of London in churches and theaters and for private concerts.

CHARLES II DANCING AT A BALL AT COURT, C.1660. HIERONYMUS JANSSENS (1624-93). ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST / © HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II 2013

Charles II dancing at court. C.1660. Hieronymus Janssens (1624-93). Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Carlo Ambrogio Lonati (c.1645–c.1712)

calonatiIl Gobbo della Regina, the hunchback composer, violinist, and singer who initially made an appearance in A House Near Luccoli, was probably born in Milan but little is known of his early life. Lonati first made friends, music and trouble with Alessandro Stradella while both were in Rome under the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden, and went to Genoa ahead of Stradella where he also preceded him as impresario of the Falconi Theater.

There is evidence that Lonati was in London—seen with a famous female singer—sometime between 1686 and1688.  Ordered out of Genoa after Stradella’s murder in February, 1682, and leaving gaps in his activities and whereabouts for some time afterwards, it’s conceivable he traveled to England before the visit made notable because of the company he kept. His abrupt intrusion on Donatella’s new life was, in the course of writing To A Strange Somewhere Fled, as much of a surprise to me as it was to her.

 

Pietro Reggio (1632 -1685)

Pietro Reggio song set

 

There is much mystery surrounding the life of the “slovenly and ugly”, to quote diarist Samuel Pepys, composer, lutenist, and singer, Pietro Reggio, who was probably from Genoa as he was referred to as Pietro Reggio Genovese. Reggio was employed in Stockholm by Queen Christina before her abdication and subsequent move to Rome where Stradella and Lonati encountered her. Eventually, Pietro traveled to France, and, if the inscription on his tombstone is accurate, to Spain and Germany. He had moved to England by 1664, where Pepys and another writer, John Evelyn, were entertained in very different ways by him. Whereas Pepys wasn’t overly impressed by “Seignor Pedro” who played the theorbo and sang Italian songs, Evelyn included Reggio’s singing in his description of the “rare music” he enjoyed after dinner one evening.

Reggio made his living in London for a time, performing and teaching, and also had associations in Oxford where he may have resided. His claim to fame is a collection of songs he published in 1680, mostly based on the verse of Abraham Cowley (1618 -1667) who was among the leading metaphysical poets of the 17th century.

 

Nicola Matteis (? – after 1714)

Nicola Matteis by Godfrey Kneller, 1682

Nicola Matteis by Godfrey Kneller, 1682

Nicola arrived in England after 1670, apparently not interested in royal service or public appearances, because, as Roger North also indicated, he might have to perform with amateurs.  Despite his resistance, his popularity grew in the 1670’s and 1680’s. He is given credit for having changed the manner of violin playing from the French to Italian style, publishing Ayres for the Violin that provided detailed bowing instructions and directions for tempo and ornamentation. Still, his compositions were difficult and many were discouraged in their efforts to play them. John Evelyn was among those who praised Matteis’ vigorous style that made his performances so memorable.

 

Various Italian, English, Scottish, and French Musicians

Bartholomeo Albrici (1634 – ?), a composer native to the seaport of Senigallia in the province of Ancona in central Italy, taught and played the harpsichord. He spent time in Sweden with his brother, Vincenzo in service to Queen Christina, and traveled with him and their singer sister Leonora (1640’s – 1700?) to London in 1662 where they all were involved in the King’s Musick. Leonora was married to Matthew Battaglia (1640? – 1687), a musician to the Duke of York, later James II. Giovanni Battista Draghi (ca. 1640 – 1708) was an Anglo-Italian composer and organist invited to London by Charles II to help establish an opera house. That project was unsuccessful, but Draghi (nicknamed “Drago”) found other ways to contribute to the music of the court and remained in England for the rest of his life.

Besides Henry Purcell, other English musicians make themselves known in To A Strange Somewhere Fled, including Henry Aldrich, church musician, Canon of Christ Church and eventually Vice-Chancellor of  Oxford University; Henrietta Bannister, wife of John Bannister “the elder” and music tutor to Princess Anne, daughter of James II; Robert Carr, viol player; Charles Coleman “the younger”, possibly a lutenist and theorbist; Thomas Eccles, a violinist who was said to have played in taverns; Thomas Farmer, violinist at the Duke’s theater in London and in service to Charles II and James II; William Gregory “the younger”, lyra viol player, composer and member of the King’s Musick and the Chapel Royal; William Husbands, organist at Christ Church, Oxford; and William Turner, composer and singer who served at Lincoln and St. Paul’s Cathedrals, the Chapel Royal and with the King’s Private Musick.

Paisable music 2

 

Also helping to add a flourish to the midsummer concert in To A Strange Somewhere Fled were Scottish composer and singer John Abell, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, whose English songs showed Italian influence; and French composer and recorder player, Jacques Paisable (“Peasable” as he was mockingly referred to), who performed at the Drury Lane Theater and married actress and singer Mary “Moll” Davis after she was dismissed as Charles II’s mistress—with a lavish pension and house as a parting gift—when the nubile Nell Gwyn came on the scene.

 

 

 

To A Strange Somewhere Fled cover back and front

Cover – back and front – illustrations by DM Denton

Master Purcell bowed to them all, the back of his wig matted and his coat creased, the ribbons undone on the bottom of his breeches, evidence of a mend here and there in his hose, and his ankles leaning out due to the wear on his shoes. As he straightened, his arms lifted until his hands were close together above his head, reminding Donatella of a priest celebrating the Eucharist, his congregation silent in preparation for the miracle they were about to receive.

~ From To A Strange Somewhere Fled, published by All Things That Matter Press.
The scene: midsummer’s eve concert at Wroxton Abbey.

This plot is as much about music as Donatella’s first story, which covered the time when she was a copyist for Stradella, but in this novel Donatella’s role as a performer is emphasized … Denton writes with a lyrical style which swells, fades, and swells again, creating a perfect setting through its tone as much as its meticulous description. Her words pull her readers to 17th century England like music from that era.
~ from review by Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions and Hopatcong Vision Quest

… the secrets and the rhythm within these pages lifts the reader to appreciate the subtle yet daring intricacies of music, passion and life in 17th century England.
~ from review by Martin Shone, author of Silence Happens and Being Human

What an inspired and informed imagination to portray the young Henry Purcell. The author’s descriptions of music, particular musicians, and musical performances make this book a work of art itself. To A Strange Somewhere Fled is a virtuoso performance.
~ from review by Mary Clark, author of Tally: An Intuitive Life, Covenant and Miami Morning: A Leila Payson Novel

DM Denton Book Launch Pages: Book trailers, Synopsis, Reviews, Buy Links, and more all in one place!

House+cover+front[2]A House Near Luccoli

 

 

 

f0da9-strange2bsomewhereTo A Strange Somewhere Fled

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Music on Christmas Morning

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton

Those who have read my two novels (A House Near Luccoli and To A Strange Somewhere Fled) know how integral music is to their language, stories, rhythm, sensibilities and characters. My third historical fiction, which is nearing completion, focuses on another area of the arts: writing. However, I couldn’t avoid, nor did I want to, the importance of music in the life of its main protagonist, Anne Brontë, youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily.

My vision for Without the Veil Between was to explore and expand the “asides” of Anne’s life in and out of the context of the more familiar Brontë narrative: one being her love of music.

At an early age, along with her siblings, she was taken by her father to concerts performed by the Haworth Operatic Society and in nearby Keighley. In the mid-1830s Reverend Brontë surprised his children by purchasing an upright cabinet piano made by John Green of Soho Square, London.

Piano in Patrick Bronte's study in Haworth Parsonage

Piano in Patrick Bronte’s study in Haworth Parsonage

Their father arranged for them to have a few lessons at the parsonage, but mostly they were self-taught. Emily, whom Anne was extremely close to, is said to have been the most accomplished pianist in the family. Charlotte’s friend (and to them all) Ellen Nussey wrote of Emily playing “with brilliance and precision.”

“Come on.” Emily dropped the shoes she had seemed so desperate to find and, not allowing Anne to put on hers, pulled her sister out of the rocking chair.
“What?”
“It’s time for Mendelsohn.”
“On the piano? It’s almost eleven.”
“Who’s to mind?”
With their father and Charlotte away, Emily couldn’t be stopped from opening the windows in almost every room and occupying herself on the cottage piano in the Reverend’s study any time she pleased. Yet Anne, who rarely went out of the house without Emily and then only into the front garden or the church to refresh the flowers by the pulpit, hadn’t heard Emily playing, not even the music Anne had given her for her birthday.
“You’ve been practicing. But when?”
“In the wee hours, as lightly as I walk about.”
“Oh. That explains—” Anne didn’t reveal her entire thought, standing to the side and holding the flickering light that illuminated the sheets Emily hardly needed to look at. She wondered how in the dark of a new day with a candle placed precariously on the corner of the piano’s lid, Emily managed to follow the score well enough to commit it to memory as well as perfecting by heart how gracefully and unpretentiously it sang without words. Anne heard it then as she had in her dreams, something of William in its wordlessness, something of herself in its longings, something almost tender about Emily that except in her constant forgiveness of Keeper might otherwise never be revealed.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
auldlang

Auld Lang Sang as copied by Anne Bronte

Anne also played, as Ellen Nussey claimed, preferring “soft melodies and vocal music. She sang a little; her voice was weak, but very sweet in tone.” As a governess, Anne gave music and singing lessons, purchasing much of the music herself. At home, in June 1843, on a brief holiday from her position at Thorpe Green, she began copying her favorite music into a blank notebook she had probably purchased on a visit to York with her employers, the Robinsons, spending a fairly substantial sum in relation to her earnings.

Anne was on the second page of filling the music manuscript book she had only counted on costing her three shillings and six pence, not the favorable opinion of her favorite sister. Her last trip to York, longer than when she and Branwell had met their father there and this time sanctioned for shopping, allowed Anne almost two hours away from the Misses Robinsons. While they spent their time and money on dresses, hats, and confections, Anne browsed a bookstore newly opened in the cathedral city, considering any expenditure carefully. She finally settled on two purchases: a German dictionary and a prettily-bound book for music copying that would also aid in her teaching, if only to Mary who showed an interest in and some talent for singing—more of a justification than reason for buying it. Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte available for performances—in her head, preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
The Shambles, York

The Shambles, York

Anne’s brother, Branwell, also had musical ability and played the organ from time to time for services in the Haworth Parish church. Unfortunately, none of his talents, including writing and painting, could override his self-pitying, self-destructive personality, which spiraled him into deadly addictions to drink and drugs.

(William’s) arm around her brother’s shoulder assured Branwell that his return to the organ wasn’t spoiled by him losing his place in the processional hymn All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord and struggling with uncertain pedaling and clumsy fingering in Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
“In the end, my friend, you found your way,” William’s cheeks were almost crimson, little streaks of sweat on them, “with Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.”
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Haworth Church and Parsonage

Haworth Church and Parsonage

I try not to project myself into any historical person I write about, hoping to understand and interpret him/her as objectively and historically accurate as possible. However, fiction (and even biographies) beg some subjectivity in order to go deeper than the facts and explore, for example, his/her motivations, hesitations, impulses and emotions. Although I chose to write about Anne, I never expected to feel such affinity with her on so many levels (actually, the more I researched and wrote on this novel that, of course, has among its cast of characters Charlotte and Emily, the more I connected to each of the Brontë sisters, but that is a post for another time).

One of the ways I related to Anne was in how her creative talents affected her life as she developed as a writer. Writing became her work, her vocation:  she knew it was her most significant means of expression if not her easiest. It involved much of her time, and, also, her mental, emotional and even physical energy, didn’t come easy, was often frustrating and misunderstood. She had to do it, no matter the trials it put her through, and it seems there were times, especially in the composing of her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that she was nearly buried in it.

As her sister Charlotte wrote in a letter: ‘I would fain hope that (Anne’s) health is a little stronger than it was – and her spirits a little better, but she leads much too sedentary a life, and is continually sitting stooping either over a book or over her desk – it is with difficulty one can prevail on her to take a walk or induce her to converse.’

In contrast music and art and Anne’s bond to nature were truly enjoyment, allowing her times when she could look up from her weighty sense of purpose and view a lighter, more leisurely way of being.

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Certainly, in difficult times, such as her years as governess at Blake Hall and then Thorpe Green, including Branwell’s disastrous stint as tutor at the latter location, music was a relaxing and pleasant pastime that interrupted Anne’s struggles with her health, duties, and worry and embarrassment over her brother’s behavior.

Like at the Spa in Scarborough, during one of her summer holidays there with her employers, the Robinson’s …

Nothing was more calming to her lungs than sitting among other reverent music lovers—which Elizabeth and Lydia were not—in the Spa’s turreted Saloon, melting into a Mozart symphony, an air by Weber, and a Rossini overture, her spirit warmed even more than her body. At least, as the music swelled and soothed and satisfied, she was unaware of any physical discomfort from the afternoon’s rising temperature let alone her earlier asthma episode.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

Or on a sultry first day of rush-bearing, a magnificent Oratorio concert right in Haworth and her own church, St. Michaels and All Angels …

The voice of Mendelssohn’s Christ in three-part chorus rose, not only creating a miraculous sound but also a haloed light.
Anne wanted to be in that moment. Such bountiful music, the church filled with contemplative commentary drawn from the New and Old Testaments, chorales in the manner of Bach, fanfares punctuating more tranquil instrumentals and vocals. It was quite a trick for the orchestra, even reduced as it was, to fit in-between the altar and audience, the violins arranged around the cellos and violas, the strings in front of the winds, and the brass elevated at the very back. The choir was in front of the instrumentalists, sopranos and tenors on the right, mezzo sopranos, altos and bases on the left.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Rushbearing 1821

Rush-bearing 1821

Or during an impulsive trip to London with Charlotte, which as unexpectedly found her at the opera in Covent Garden …

Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about critics or how you must answer them, or Papa or Emily or Branwell … or anything to disturb the wonder of this unexpected adventure
She didn’t think Mr. Williams, as he glanced at her, was reading her thoughts but, instead, wanted to witness her enthusiastic participation in the custom of applauding for the conductor as he quickly stepped into the pit, took his place and a bow, and turned to prompt the orchestra’s tuning up.
There was some movement behind the curtain, the footlights seeming to burn brighter as Anne’s attention focused on the stage. “This is beyond my dreams. Beyond what I deserve.” She lifted her hands to her cheeks, afraid they were flushed, as Mr. Williams might assume, with pleasure and embarrassment, but, as couldn’t be helped, really just the warmth and closeness of the theater.
“Oh, Miss Brontë, you’re more than worthy to be here.” Mr. Williams was prompted by Anne’s admission to make one of his own. “I think you’re a perfect companion for attending the opera, for I suspect you understand how music—”
“Kindly bids us wake. It calls us, with an angel’s voice, to wake, worship, and rejoice.”
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Which brings me to Anne’s Music on Christmas Morning, which was included in the poetry anthology she and her sisters published in the spring of 1846. It reflects Anne’s piety and love of music, words and nature, using all to paint a lyrically poignant bridge between heaven and earth.

music-of-christmas-morning-poem-with-holly-border-croped

 

Whether you read this post and Anne’s poem on the morning it was written in honor of, or at any other time, I want to offer my heartfelt appreciation for your visit to my little space in the universe along with wishes for many blessings to be yours in this season however you mark it.

Peace and Love

Please note that the excerpts I offered from my in progress Without the Veil Between, are from its first draft.

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The Conscience of Christmas

The conscience of our hearts …

I’m reposting the poem below, which I wrote in December 2012, as today marks four years since twenty children were lost to gun violence at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Tragically, heart-achingly, children continue to die and suffer around the world as in Aleppo, Syria:

“One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Half of all refugees are children.”

Worldwise displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase.

 

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

The weather isn’t frightful
as the snow falls on cue,
just following its heart
that longs for innocence
in a world where it is
all too brief.

The cold creates a warmth of
knowing we must come in
from the harsh winds that blow
humanity to shame
and haunt its soul for right
to be done.

The season cannot change what
happened to children who
did not doubt tomorrow
and to all those who did,
their smiles lost in tears
not in vain.

For as long as winter turns
from darkness to cast light
on a softer view through
the narrowing window
of how to make amends,
we must try.

 

Blessings of the season to all.
Prayers for non-violence to prevail
in the New Year and beyond.

Copyright 2012 DM Denton

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Nature Insight: In a Cold Climate

Am working on a new post, but, in the meantime, something to help you pause and reflect, first shared a few years back …

 

yew-1With shorter days come slower nights,

more time to settle for solitude.

Love is gone and is here still,

more in the heart than can be lived.

For all there is a season and this is mine,

evergreen, and woven into wintery cobwebs.

Somehow I resist the temptation to brush them away.

 

I prefer winter…when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.

Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.

Andrew Wyeth, American Painter (1917 – 2009)

holly-with-bird-winter-border

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.