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

117305

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.

View+of+Genoa0003fb (2)

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

 carnevale-Copia-744x445

 

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

january-2-17-violin-and-stradella-cameo-image-jpg-with-text-1

 

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.

abbey-front-with-gamba-purcell-image-with-books-and-texture-jpg-with-picmonkey-text-2 

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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Alessandro Stradella: Fascinating, Flawed, Forgiven, and Unforgettable

Back in March 2015 Andrea Zuvich hosted me on her beautiful site The Seventeenth Century Lady. Andrea has long recognized the excellence of the music of Alessandro Stradella, who is, of course, the focus of my novel A House Near Luccoli and, hauntingly, its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

I hope thou will take a few minutes for a little time travel and indulge thyself with a visit to this beautifully designed, intelligent, and entertaining website, and, whilst there, have a read of my post:

Alessandro Stradella: Fascinating, Flawed, Forgiven, and Unforgettable: A Guest Post by DM Denton | The Seventeenth Century Lady.

Most of the readers of The Seventeenth Century Lady are not only fans of 17th-century history, but also of the Baroque music of that time. It is therefore my pleasure to have DM Denton here with a guest post about Alessandro Stradella – a commonly (and sadly!) overlooked composer of wonderful Italian Baroque music.

In June of 2002 I found myself expectantly listening to the music of Alessandro Stradella and an engaging encapsulation of his story replete with romance and intrigue, triumph and tragedy, like an opera drawing on the divinity and failings of gods and men. I live in Western New York with access to Canadian TV and radio broadcasts, and in those days, while commuting to work, I often tuned into a fascinating program on CBC Radio 2 called In the Shadow, which highlighted the lives and works of musicians and composers who had been largely ignored or forgotten. That morning the host Tom Allen featured a certain 17th century Italian maestro.

Read entire guest post at The Seventeenth Century Lady …

 

a-stradella-signature

 

 

 

The azalea flower was suggestive of the new lodger, with a passion for color itself, spraying out from its dramatic center like a cat’s whiskers for effect and purpose, rising stealthily through the shade to reach for the wind as much as the sun. After a nap and persuading her grandmother to try a little broth, Donatella spent the afternoon where buzzing wisteria and honeysuckle blurred the angles of walls also stepping up with budding hibiscus and geraniums to larger terracotta pots of bay and lemon trees surrounding a sunny plateau. A city sky was more available there than in the street, flat baskets drying basil, a rusty ironwork table and several chairs reminding how lunch or supper used to be taken for granted.

***

“There you are. What a mess those trees made here” Her aunt was predictable.

“They should be cut down.”

“No.”

“Well, any overhanging branches at least. But if you keep the path neater I won’t think about it.”

When Despina had gone inside Donatella fetched the broom from the shed near the steps leading down to the cellar.

“Instead you could find me a flower.” Signor Stradella proved he was a master of near misses as well as melody. “A return is a sort of encore and needs ornamento.”

He had grown taller until Donatella realized it was the styling of his wig, the straight length of his blue velvet coat and buttoned vest, his legs posed in barely a glimpse of tasseled breeches but mostly unwrinkled hose of burnished gold, daring heels on his shoes. His positioning with one hand on his hip and the other in mid-air made him look like a funzionario claiming importance, but his pronouncement was a smile anyone would easily agree to.

“So what do you think?” he saw her choice before she made it. “Ah. Perfetto. The colore of the heart.”

His ballooning sleeves twisted an azalea cluster into an also cumbersome cravat. All that creamy lace cascading down his breast accented by the bursting red of his heart was so pretentious she quietly laughed.

He did too, showing his teeth as he probably wouldn’t in the company he was returning to, although there was a sense he didn’t intend to live longer with them in mind. Or maybe it was just the truth when he said, “Così, there’s no cause to flatter you.”

She was offended and relieved, all further exchanges between them decided. He moved through the garden with the flirtatious restlessness of a butterfly.

from A House Near Luccoli

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Illustration by DM Denton Copyright 2015

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The Music of Friends: Cadences and Temperaments

“The Music of Friends” is a term first used by Richard Walthew in a 1909 lecture to describe chamber music, music originally composed for small ensembles to perform in a confined often private space such as a house or a palace room.

The dais at the north end was designated for the music of friends. Roger worried over the personalities that would perform, a program created that listed them in alphabetical order except Master Purcell was acknowledged first to perform last. The chairs and music stands were set up with the expectation that they would be moved around to accommodate one complaint or other. Donatella tried to reassure Roger that musicians would always reconcile for the sake of the music, as she had seen Alessandro and Lonati do.

~ from To A Strange Somewhere Fled , sequel to A House Near Luccoli, which focused on the 17th century legendary Italian composer Alessandro Stradella.

The musical players

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 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 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) (I couldn’t find a portrait of him)

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. He 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

 

“Oh, I must hear Stradella.” Master Purcell swung out his arms as though into an embrace.

“Let me choose.” Mama was irresistibly devious, lifting page after page.

“Something lighthearted and melodious, if you please.” The young composer’s arms dropped. “As I feel sure he would’ve wished to entertain us.”

“It is here.”

“No, Mama.” Donatella realized her mother’s discovery and an ache in her stomach.

Master Purcell was soon performing the selected music with his eyes and a delicate finger in the air. “Will you sing it, mistress?”

“Yes, yes. With my daughter, Donata, as she is shy. It’s her specialty.”

“Really?” Master Purcell screwed his mouth, skeptical but interested.

“In fact, Maestro Stradella might’ve written it for her.”

“Oh, no, Mama. In Rome, before—”

“You knew him?” Master Purcell motioned for Lonati who had been listening without comprehending what should have provoked him into having his say. “I would like to hear this, Carlo. I don’t see a bass viol, but Reggio can improvise. The ladies will sing. There’s only one score.”

“I know it by heart.” Donatella blindly stepped back into her mother’s arms.

“Of course you do, darling,” Mama’s soft voice blew into her ear.

“Ah,” Purcell was watching them closely, and then turned back to Lonati, who was explaining the music to Reggio.

~ From To A Strange Somewhere Fled, published by All Things That Matter Press.

 

Keeping true to A House Near Luccoli, much of the foundation of this novel 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

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 White Horse Regressions

… 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 and Covenant

A well-researched history of the 17th century music loved by the Italians in Genoa, and now in England, where well-known musicians such as Henry Purcell and other notables are popular. What I found most valuable in these two books were the exceptional scenes with composers and performers of the day, described in details that keep the reader deeply involved in that age.
~ from a review by Jean Rodenbough, author of Rachel’s Children, Surviving the Second World War

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

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(This post was first published in July, 2015. I have made a few adjustments to it. Hope it is enjoyed again and for the first time!)

©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.

Historical Novel Saturday: Review: A House Near Luccoli by DM Denton

Even after almost four years, it’s so thrilling to know that my novel A House Near Luccoli is still finding new readers. Thank you to Christoph Fischer, who is a very fine writer himself, for taking the time and interest in engaging with the novel and writing such a beautiful review. While you’re visiting his site, please take a look at his excellent publications.

writerchristophfischer

A most beautiful and engaging novel about Baroque musician Alessandro Stradella. Mixing fact with fictional elements we get to witness this colourful and fascinating subject in his professional and private life.A House Near Luccoli Front Cover
The flow of the writing is smooth and pulled me in from the first chapter – something that few historical novels master. The prose is wonderful and the pace just perfect.
There is a great story to tell about this man and the music world of the 17th Century. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed this novel, being not that familiar with the Italian Baroque ‘scene’. The author has done immaculate research and fills the pages with great details without overloading it.
Donatella, the other main character of the book, is equally well drawn and interesting. This is a real pleasure to read, all the more when you read the notes about the man and the author…

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Midsummer Music and a Little Madness

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Here’s the summer, sprightly, gay
Smiling, wanton, fresh and fair,
Adorned with all the flowers of May,
Whose various sweets perfume the air.

from the opera The Fairy Queen, Music by Henry Purcell, Libretto by ‘anonymous’,
based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Title page of original printed edition

Title page of original printed edition

Midsummer celebrations take place around the summer solstice (in the northern hemisphere, about June 21st). In England, from the 13th century, Midsummer’s Eve, also called St. John’s Eve,  was celebrated on June 23rd as the following day marked the feast of John the Baptist. In the 14th century John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, left us this insight: “At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin.

In rural England, large bonfires were built and this practice was called “Setting the Watch”, a reference to the idea that fire would keep the evil spirits away. I used this phrase to title the final pages of my novel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled. You’ll have to read the novel to find out why, but I will offer a little teaser:

The Captain greeted someone coming from the Abbey grounds who raised a lantern. “Good evening, Tobias. The devil’s not afoot tonight, I trust?”

It was obvious he had upset the old man, who took his light away as quickly as he could.

In the novel, the Midsummer’s Eve celebrations begin with the music of friends, a concert featuring some of the top musicians – English, Italian, and French – of late Restoration England, many employed in the Court of Charles II.  Francis North (1st Baron Guildford; Keeper of the Great Seal, 1682 – 1685) and his brother Roger North (King’s Counsel, 1682 – 1684; Solicitor General to the Duke of York 1684; Attorney General to Queen Mary of Modena 1686) host the musical evening in and around their Oxfordshire country home, Wroxton Abbey.

Cover Artwork cropped resized_pe cropped

Wroxton Abbey, Copyright 2015 by DM Denton

More excerpts, Maestro, please …

 

Roger North_pe_pe

Roger North, 1651 – 1734, English lawyer, biographer, and amateur musician

On the day of midsummer’s eve the Great Hall gleamed with polish and high sunlight, its woolen rugs taken up and flagstones scrubbed, regal-red upholstered chairs borrowed from Broughton Castle arranged in two short-rowed sections separated by an aisle wide enough for layers of skirts. The fireplace was filled with a display of larkspur, lilies, gilliflowers, ferns and branching honeysuckle picked and presented by Tobias, and arranged by Lidia under his fussy direction. Tobias also brought sweet peas from “his most successful crop ever” to make nosegays for the ladies while single blooms would suffice for the gentlemen and their buttonholes. The flowers were kept fresh by being kept cold along with the sorbet made possible because of the ice-house Roger had been experimenting with.

The dais at the north end was designated for the music of friends. Roger worried over the personalities that would perform, a program created that listed them in alphabetical order except Master Purcell was acknowledged first to perform last. The chairs and music stands were set up with the expectation they would be moved around to accommodate one complaint or other. Donatella tried to reassure Roger that musicians would always reconcile for the sake of the music, as she had seen Alessandro and Lonati do.

A month and a half earlier, they had walked through the Abbey to consider the layout of the event and how many guests could be accommodated. Some would need to stay overnight. Roger formally introduced Donatella to the kitchen and household staff who hardly looked willing to take orders from her. Most of the planning took place in the garden parlor where Mama had recovered from fainting and Donatella had English lessons. It had almost completely evolved into a study and library, fitted with more shelves that still weren’t enough to prevent the stacking of books on the floor and deep windowsill. Its pretty couch, once for posing and swooning and dying, was just another place for the unmanageable range of Roger’s interests.

“The … domestics must … curse … you,” Donatella struggled to find the English words.

Roger wasn’t upset or apologetic. “They know better than to disturb anything in here.”

The dust that caused her fits of sneezing and Roger to open the window even though it wasn’t warm enough to confirmed no one had cleaned in there for quite some time.

“This is a little madness, don’t you think?” Roger was full of ideas for the concert, including a bonfire for the villagers behind the Abbey with a table set out on the terrace for sweetmeats and cider.

Old Depiction of the Great Hall, Wroxton Abbey

Old Depiction of the Great Hall, Wroxton Abbey

By six o’clock sunshine defined the high heraldic windows at the west end of the dais and streamed down upon it. The crowd was steeped in musky fragrance, clashing colors, watchful flirtation, conversational anticipation, and consuming more drink than food, seemingly oblivious to the performers as they tuned up. Outside behind the house, after a rowdy parade, villagers enjoyed the chance to feast at the Norths’ expense. They danced to their own fiddlers and waited for the sun to set and flames to rise up from the mountain of logs and brash so high a ladder had been needed to put the last bundles on top. Sir Francis wondered where his son and John Lely were, Anne’s shoulders rising and falling with either disapproval or envy for her brother’s ease of escape. Donatella could only imagine the boys preferring to play according to their age rather than privilege by rolling down banks, climbing trees, throwing stones and even wading in the fish pond, which Roger should not know about. Fortunately, he was preoccupied with Master Purcell setting the stage with an eye and ego for making sure he was positioned front and center.

Henry Purcell, 1659 - 1695, English Composer

Henry Purcell, 1659 – 1695, English Composer

Master Purcell nodded to Sir Francis who wasn’t quite invisible in the shadows under the gallery, and then to Roger, who was much closer to him.

“To my hosts, benefactors, and dear friends, I thank you for opening your doors and purses to my music and self, and especially for giving me a reason to escape the tyranny of London.”

There were gasps and murmurings that Master Purcell enjoyed for a few moments. “I refer only to the courtly chains of service I put upon myself.”

It was as if his shocking and relieving confession was rehearsed when there was a playful burst on the recorder from “James Peasable” as Master Purcell announced him.

“Jacques Paisible,” the young Frenchman corrected, without a hint of hostility.

“How’s Moll, Jack? Did she have another engagement? Perhaps, at Whitehall?” The theorbo player mocked him.

Paisible’s face tightened. “No. She’s at home.”

“On Suffolk Street?”

“Yes.”

“Well, within reach of … Whitehall.”

With a little stamp of his right foot, Master Purcell allowed nothing more to be said except as he introduced “the conspirators in making music worth listening to.”

Thomas Eccles and Thomas Farmer stood to attention with their violins in position to be played at a moment’s notice, but Matteo Battaglia hadn’t yet picked up his. Robert Carr and William Gregory straddled their viols. With the theorbo resting against his chest and reaching off to one side with his arm, Charles Coleman also sat, as did John Abell, encircling his lute. Jacques Paisable answered his second introduction with another seeming impossible flourish on the recorder, while Bartolomeo Albrici and Giovanni Battista Draghi exchanged vulgarities in the Italian style at the announcement that they would take turns on the harpsichord.

Master Purcell waved the singers forward and kissed the hand of Leonora, “an angel who could not leave England again, even if Matteo must go without her.” He showed more reserve with Henrietta Bannister, the wife of the late John and mother of the younger, and called William Turner an accomplished composer himself, a fine countertenor, and true gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

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 up 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.

His arms fell and the strings began with a pavan in G minor that was reflective and hesitant but gradually rose to the occasion and opened the mood for what came next. A chacony did, in the same key, pulsating with bowing stokes up and down and brief pauses in slowly intensifying obstinato. The bass dropped out and came back in, its rhythm processional and melody clear with fleeting variations, its development quickening and relieving while weaving possibilities into a conclusion that couldn’t be more simple.

06-midsummer.jpg Bonfire

Donatella felt cold despite the very warm evening and bonfire that, kindled with conifer brash, eagerly blazed up through the center of precisely piled hazel, oak, alder, holly, willow, and ash logs as Roger had recommended for steady burning and tradition. By the time she was abandoned to the crowding on the terrace, the inferno was collapsing inwards to grow higher and higher. It was unapproachable by those with trailing silk and satin, flounces of lace and dangling ribbons, and anything else about their appearances to consider. A beacon to the villager revelers, it illuminated their senses, superstitions, and faith as their children played too close to it. Old and young alike joined in its leaping twirling dance, their voices also crackling, fiddlers and drummers making music that had never been written down. Some carried cressets lit from the fire and ran close to the ladies and gentlemen on the terrace to terrify or tempt them.

Casee's Book Photo on Dark Blue Background with Text_pe

 

 

All excerpts from To A Strange Somewhere Fled, published by All Things That Matter Press, are copyrighted (2015) by DM Denton

I hope your summer is full of joy and peace and love!

 

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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.