Driving to work in the summer of 2002, I often listened to a Canadian classical music radio program called In the Shadows. One morning the host offered a little of the story and music of a late 17th century Italian composer whom I, and obviously many others (hence the title of the program), had never heard of. The music was stunningly fluid and melodic, with clear expressive vocals and distinct instrumentations. The story had romance and intrigue, triumphs and transgressions, like an opera of the period drawing on the divinity and failings of gods and men. At the end of the program I came to my own very personal conclusion – I knew why I was listening!
Because I knew Alessandro Stradella. I knew his superb voice, his swaying form, his infectious smile and his wandering heart. I’d seen the rise and fall of his talent. I knew he was as good as bad for me, for anyone, his music showering him with forgiveness if not fortune.
However it wasn’t until late 2005 that I returned to him as the novel subject I was looking for. Stradella’s life and career covered a lot of ground and engaged with a lot of great and not so great characters! I needed a small opportunity to imagine a way into a little of his time. As I read Carolyn Gianturco’s Alessandro Stradella, the Man and His Music, including his few extant letters, I soon found a place where I might gingerly step into his productive, oft-times scandalous, certainly fateful life.
The residential setting and title of the novel reflect the possibility that Stradella last lived in a house owned by Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi just off la via Luccoli in Genoa – records showing that this was where his possessions were inventoried after his death. From there I used poetic license to further encounter him as anonymously, innocently and profoundly as Grete does Vermeer in A Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Unashamedly, I admit to being influenced by that work’s blend of truth and supposition, carefully creating reality within reality, not changing history but quietly humanizing it, not just musing over great art but personalizing it, subtly and intelligently revealing the ordinary in the extraordinary and the significance of the insignificant.
My Vermeer is Alessandro Stradella, his inspiration inspiring me. I must give credit as well to my mother’s poignant memories of my beautiful grandmother’s accomplishments and disappointments, a concert pianist whose life let alone career ended too soon, also like Stradella affecting my life as I can only imagine affecting either of theirs. I have played the notes, lifted my song, and been an obsessive spectator, seduced by the harpsichord, lute and viola da gamba, attracted to the paradox of genius and intoxicated by the art of a beautiful song; sometimes just a wink and a smile.
I hope the novel reflects how the listener can be as much of a participant as the performer. I warmly invite you into the story I have chosen to tell.
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