I am listening to The Plaint: O Let Me Weep by Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695), playing it over and over, a mantra while I’m writing. Even vocal music doesn’t distract me if it’s fluid and expressive, like the current under a boat, sending a narrative on its way. In the liner notes of soprano Nancy Argenta’s Songs and Airs CD, Adelaide de Place writes that “Purcell liked to compare music and poetry with two mutually supportive sisters.” The 17th century Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella (1639 – 1682), the focus of my novel, A House Near Luccoli would’ve appreciated the comparison, perhaps smiling mischievously, preferring to create a little rivalry. Never discord. Even his Italian “sisters” would have bowed gracefully to his designs, side by side, arms entwined, differences reconciled as their voices blended into one sound so beautiful no man could put asunder.
English lawyer, biographer and “Renaissance man” Roger North (1653 – 1754), who figures prominently in the sequel to A House Near Luccoli, wrote that “poetry called” his grandfather, the 1st Lord North, “to music.” For me it was the other way around, music expressing almost everything I couldn’t until I picked up a pen like a violinist lifts his bow and interpreted it into something so personal, beyond thought and emotion. Without music I may never have written a word, never realized I had to write, never lost track of time until I found myself alone in its company having forgotten how to speak – except silently.
Both words and music are about playing with silence, like birdsong or breezes or rain or thunder, our breathing or someone else’s, heartbeats and heartaches, love-affairs and loneliness. As with the chicken and the egg, their collaboration employs a circular cause and consequence, no way and no need to answer the question of which came first or is more important. As music inspires me to write, I desire to make music of my writing.
As I write now I am thinking of ghosts and not minding the melancholy, for it sounds so pleasing I question there is anything more joyful. It’s as if I’m enveloped in a prayer. O let me weep … or smile … or dream … or despair as I please; let me never be at a loss for words and music. Amen.
The above is a repost from July 2011, the early days of my blog.
Although I knew the following article about my authorship of A House Near Luccoli was going to appear in a local newspaper, I was astonished by the beautiful layout. I share it here and greatly appreciate you taking the time to read:
A Literary Note
Batavia Daily News
December 15, 2012
EAST PEMBROKE – The first time Diane Denton heard the music of Alessandro Stradella, she knew she was listening to something extraordinary.
She didn’t realize as she drove to work at a media consultant firm that morning in 2002 just how big an impression it would make on her life, or that she would spend years researching the artist and another three years writing a book about him.
A fan of the classics, Denton was listening to CBC Radio 2. The show, In the Shadows, highlighted the lives and works of artists – mainly musical – who for a variety of reasons had been largely ignored or forgotten.
“On this particular morning, a 17th century Italian composer, whom I and obviously many others had never heard of, was featured,” Denton said. “His music was stunning — fluid and melodic, with clear expressive vocals and distinct instrumentations.
“Set in 17th century Genoa, Italy, A House Near Luccoli is the story of the little-known, but brilliant 17th century composer named Alessandro Stradella. She described his story as “replete with romance and intrigue, triumphs and tragedy, like an opera drawing on the divinity and failings of gods and men.”
“The fictional Donatella in the book is a lot of me, although it wasn’t a conscious thing while I was writing the novel,” said Denton, who lives with her mother in East Pembroke. “I did want to express a point of view of a woman who is very self-contained, but rather insecure, perhaps too sensitive, artistic and talented, but who unvalues her life in a resigned sort of way. Donatella was a fictional female protagonist stepping out of my own hopes and disappointments.”
Denton said she has been writing since she was 12, but her mother remembers the first poem Denton wrote for Thanksgiving when she was only 6 – about a family Thanksgiving gathering and being grateful their family was all together.
Denton was born in Buffalo and grew up in Tonawanda. During her junior year, she studied in England, where she met a young man, married and stayed for 16 years.
“I lived, for better or worse, right off the pages of Fielding, the Brontes, Austin, Hardy, DH Lawrence and even Dickens, surrounded by the beautiful hills, woods and fields of the Oxfordshire countryside,” Denton said.
In the meantime, her parents moved to East Pembroke, where Denton returned after her father Carmen died in 1986.
Although she has always been interested in history, particularly European history, Denton said her participation in and appreciation of music was encouraged through memories shared about her maternal grandmother Marion DiCesare (ne Allers), who was a concert pianist in Chicago.
Denton also shares artistic talent with her mother, and their paintings hang side by side on the walls of their home. Denton did the illustrations for A House Near Luccoli herself.
One reason Denton was intrigued with Stradella’s music is because his story reminded her of a modern-day musician she knew who, in many ways, sabotaged himself and the potential he could have achieved.
“By the time I pulled into the parking lot at work, I knew why I was listening,” Denton said. “I ‘knew’ Alessandro Stradella. I recognized his distinct voice, his swaying form, his infectious smile and his wandering heart.”
Denton spent the rest of that morning and many more hours in pursuit of Stradella. She said her writer’s urge “to do something with him” was easier stirred than accomplished. There was so little about him on the pages of Google searches and music histories, Denton’s desire to create something out of her interest in the man was soon frustrated and abandoned.
It wasn’t until 2005 Denton returned to her work on Stradella.
“The timing must have been right, for suddenly resources, although still not in abundance, were easier to find,” she said. “As I read my costly copy of Alessandro Stradella, the Man and his Music by musicologist Carolyn Gianturco, I found an opportunity for imagining my way into his story, focusing on his last fateful days in Genoa.”
Her intention, Denton said, was not to change history, but quietly humanize it; not merely to appreciate a great musician, but personalize him; to reveal the ordinary in the extraordinary and the significance of the insignificant.
The title and main setting of Denton’s novel reflect the strong possibility Stradella last lived in a house owned by Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi, just off the via Luccoli in Genoa. Records indicated this was where his possessions were inventoried after his tragic and untimely death in his 40s.
Although talented and cultivated, Stradella was something of a vagabound and messed up many opportunities to become rich and famous. He had a reputation for making messes, but also masterpieces, Denton said.
Copies of A House Near Luccoli are available at Present Tense Books, 101 Washington Ave., Batavia (NY); The Book Shoppe in Medina (NY); and online at amazon.com in paperback and Kindle edition, and at barnesandnoble.com as a NOOK book.
Denton already has two more works in progress. She has been asked to write a sequel to A House Near Luccoli, which she hopes to have completed in late spring. The sequel will take Donatella to England and the small but stately Oxfordshire village of Wroxton, where she hopes to settle with her Italian mother and English father, a retired seaman.
“Another thing about my Donatella connection is, I am also of Italian and English heritage,” Denton said. “So I have lived a long time with the personality contrasts, even the struggles that come with that combination.”
Another work is a book of poetry based on journals she kept about the flowers and gardens in England and their changes through the seasons. That book is expected to be released in early spring.
Article written by Batavia News Correspondent, Virgina Kropf
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