For Easter: Music by Stradella and Purcell, Words by Anne Brontë

“My music began. A mixture of harmonious voices, poetry & fine instrumentalists.”
Alessandro Stradella ~ A House Near Luccoli, a novel by DM Denton

Alessandro Stradella’s sacred cantata for solo alto and instruments Crocifissione e morte di nostro signore Gesu Cristo – the Crucifixion and death of our savior Jesus Christ. Performed by Baroque and Renaissance Choral

 

Purcell performed the music with his eyes & a delicate finger in the air.
~ To A Strange Somewhere Fled a novel by DM Denton (Sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

Henry Purcell’s Hear My Prayer · Sheffield Cathedral Choir · Neil Taylor · Peter Heginbotham
Crux Fidelis – Music for Passiontide and Easter

 

And as I have just completed my novel about Anne Brontë …

… here is Anne’s poem/hymn Believe Not Those Who Say, which was put to the tune Festal Song by William Henry Walter (unfortunately I couldn’t find a recording of Anne’s words put to the music. I did find an organ instrumental of Festal Song and it’s easy to “hear” how her words fit in.)

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou should stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.
To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure.
Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight,
What matter who should whisper blame
Or who should scorn or slight.

 

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, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit © 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.

Happy 378th Birthday, Alessandro Stradella!

April 3rd is the 378th anniversary of the birth of the Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella: inspiration for and subject of my novel, A House Near Luccoli, and haunting figure in its sequel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled

If you’re interested in knowing more about this once famed, talented, legendary, long neglected Baroque Music figure, I hope you will read on. Also check out the page on this blog devoted to the novel and Stradella … and on my website.

Alessandro Stradella, April 3, 1639 – February 25, 1682

 

When and how was I first introduced to Alessandro Stradella?

I first heard Stradella’s story and—knowingly—his music while driving to work in 2002 and listening to a Canadian classical music radio station show called In the Shadows. By the time I arrived at work, I could only remember his first name. Later I googled composers named Alessandro, scrolling down all the entries for Scarlatti to finally find a very few mentions of … Alessandro … Stradella!

In time I found out why Stradella, a celebrity in his time who produced a body of work that set him alongside the greatest Baroque masters, was, at best, a footnote in music history. Unfortunately, in the decades and centuries after his death, Stradella’s alluring story took on an almost exclusively cloak-and-dagger slant in novels and operas, eclipsing his importance as a composer until his music was rarely performed. Only recently, thanks to a dedicated biographer and cataloger and some enlightened musicians, that has begun to change.

One of the most beautiful distinctions of the sun is to disburse the mine of its golden splendors not only over the nearest countries but also to the most remote lands.
~Alessandro Stradella, from his dedication of La forza dell’amor paterno, Genoa 1678

How did my interest in Alessandro Stradella grow to the point of wanting to write about him?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

From the first I was drawn to him because of the contradiction between the discipline of his work and recklessness of his behavior. It evoked a special connection for me, for I had personally seen the potential of talent and purpose sabotaged by incautious, even self-destructive behavior. The more I learned about Stradella’s triumphs and failures, and all the hard work and missteps in-between, the more I became fascinated by a personality at once charming and creative, intelligent and indulgent, cultivated and itinerant—an adventurer who made a few messes but also many masterpieces along the way.

Finally, in the summer of 2005, I really met Stradella in the intimacy my imagination created: observing him behind the scenes in great and small ways, surrendering to his charisma, and enjoying his self-determination while exploring why he so often put his career and life at risk. I often thought how much easier it would have been if there were more details available about his appearance, personality and the events of his life, but I also realized his obscurity offered an opportunity to discover him in less public ways: through his letters, even his handwriting, and especially his music that knew the rules but pushed the boundaries.

Before her was a gracious creature, especially his hands composing in mid-air and his eyes shifting slowly in observation and expression … without music’s influence he might not wander like a prince among his subjects, though who could think that was all there was to him?
~from A House Near Luccoli

Is the house near Luccoli of the novel’s title an actual residence?

There is the possibility that the last place Stradella lived in Genoa was a house near the Luccoli district. The house was most likely owned by Guiseppe Maria Garibaldi, one of the Genoese noblemen who supported Stradella. I couldn’t find any specific details regarding this house—such as its exact location or whether it still existed—but for the purpose of the novel I put it on the map and set to ‘building it’ based on what my research and imagination came up with. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a domestic setting for the developing relationship between Donatella, my fictional female protagonist, and Stradella; one that allowed the reader behind the scenes of his career and persona. The novel does, at times, escape such close quarters into the magnificence and mayhem of Genoa, but essentially remains an interior study of character and circumstance.

Their landlord, one of the Falcone’s managers, announced that Signor Stradella would be moving into their quiet world … It was assumed Signor Stradella would use the apartment for composing as well as sleep and light refreshments. Otherwise he would be out for tutoring and rehearsals during the day and church performances on Sundays, his evenings planned and unplanned with meals and diversions in more and less respectable settings.
~from A House Near Luccoli

What surprised me the most in my research for the novel?

One of the most surprising things was discovering Genoa as a fascinating place and perfect setting for the story I wanted to write. Up until then I knew it as Christopher Columbus’ birthplace, otherwise—if most travelogues of Italy were anything to go by—for passing through on the way to somewhere else or avoiding altogether. La Superba (The Superb One) is a vertical city, back-dropped by the Apennine Mountains, surrounding a bay looking out past its famous Lanterna (lighthouse) and the Ligurian Sea towards the eastern Mediterranean. It has splendid churches, palaces and villas. Also, in its medieval center, there’s a labyrinth of narrow caruggi (alleyways) full of poverty, danger and sudden beautiful entrances to half-hidden palazzi. It’s a conflicted place with, as Stradella’s chief biographer, Carolyn Gianturco, wrote, “a climate of public puritanism and private crime.” The novel is about human contradictions, too: Stradella’s, of course, but also Donatella’s. Genoa has been called “the most English city in Italy”, and so proved an apt location, as Donatella is a ‘daughter’ of both countries.

Of course Genova had a conceit she couldn’t have, knowing its purpose and hiding or flaunting its features of beauty. Once she saw all its wonders and woes from the esplanade of Castelletto, the mountains closer and the Lanterna further away. Perhaps she made out her house; if not its signature portal of Saint George and the Dragon, then a signifying shine on its roof’s slant. It was a prestigious place to live depending on how she looked at it, whether connected up to a parade of palaces, across divides or down crooked stairways to the port.
~from A House Near Luccoli

Was I tempted to write myself into any of the characters?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

I knew I was there from the opening lines, disguised and revealed in the character of Donatella. Like me, she is Italian and English, a writer and artist, gardener, companioned by cats, wrapped up in solitude, contradictions, moods, and memories, and addicted to music’s presence in her life. Certainly, I could understand her struggle with surrendering to Stradella’s charm, talent and impetuosity; how it felt to be amazed, flattered and bewildered by such an attraction; and that in the end so much and so little changed for her through knowing him. This was a very personal story for me to write. Even more so once it was published, life imitating art when Donatella’s quiet grief and onward journey became my reality, too.

There was no unloving him as he was, available and irresistible, artful yet authentic, larger than life but vulnerable. Making his acquaintance was unforgettable, seduction unavoidable, consequences bestowed like blessings.

She was an artist, seeing him gracefully off balance like the orchid she was painting, bending left and then right, one arm behind a hip and the other lifting and falling at the same time, neck slightly turned, head back, and face flowering into a smile and wink.
~from A House Near Luccoli

How did I write about music and am I a musician myself?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

I knew the most important thing to do was listen—constantly listen, Stradella’s music a soundtrack to the conceptualizing, researching, and writing of the novel until I was living with and even haunted by it like an invisible presence. Of course, I did refer to academic sources, and the notes on CD sleeves were also a great help. I used some musical terminology as it offered imagery the poet in me found too lovely to resist!

I have played the piano, guitar and Celtic harp, and sung a little. The pleasure I find in trying to translate music into words might come from my regret at not having pursued a musical career. I suppose writing about music is another way of participating in it. I found it very satisfying. I never set out to try to imitate, explain or even describe music, but somehow convey its elusive existence in the heart and spirit.

This question makes me think of the 1991 French movie about the 17th century composers Marin Marais and Sainte-Colombe, Tous les Matin du Monde that asks: “What is music?” Sainte-Colombe insists words cannot describe it—that it is the sound of the wind, a painter’s brush, wine pouring into a cup, or just the tear on a cheek. I agree that it is impossible to express the essence or the effect of music in words, but I hope my readers experience something of its beauty and power through what I have written, especially as it is inexpressible.

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

“… I am glad to have had the opportunity of spending these many years uncovering the actual Stradella, a fascinating and lively man, who wrote excellent music of a personal stamp. Had circumstances given him the possiblity, he would surely have been surprised by my continued refusal to give up the often discouraging and elusive task; I like to think that he would have been pleased that I did not.”​
~Caroline Gianturco, Alessandro Stradella, 1639-1682: His Life and Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994):

A House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled, are available on amazon.com in paperback, Kindle and Audio Book editions; and at barnesandnoble.com in paperback and NOOK Book editions.

Read the first chapters in these Kindle previews:

A House Near Luccoli

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (Scroll past the first chapter of A House Near Luccoli)

Since I wrote and published A House Near Luccoli, there has been increasing interest in his music.

Alberto Sanna is “a musicologist and violinist from Sardinia, Italy, who specialises in early modern Italian music. ​He recently released the first-ever complete period-instrument recording of Alessandro Stradella’s beautiful yet neglected Two-Part Sinfonias.

​Please visit his website for more information on and samples of his work, which as well as Stradella also shine light on Corelli. Dr. Alberto has served as the Director of Music on the BBC 4 Drama How To Flee From Sorrow.

©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

Thank you for taking the time to visit and read (and listen!)

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.

A Sip of Limonata…

… and A House Near Luccoli

Fruit and book_pe

Besides the folder of music, Donatella carried up a tray of limonata and anise cake, another of Nonna’s suggestions.

“At last.”

She smelled a candle burning, but it didn’t light the short hall. In the main room a window was open, with the settee moved closer to it, Signor Stradella a masterpiece resting there. One dark leg was stretched and falling over the back of the couch, a ruffled hand on its knee; the other bent to the floor and, even without stocking and shoe, appeared ready to walk away. He had also undressed to his shirt still buttoned high and wrinkled softly because it was made of the finest linen. A slight breeze blew his hair over his face. As he realized her burdened entrance, his right shoulder pillowed a half-smile and he reached out lazily.

“Did you bring bavareisa?”

“What’s that?” She clumsily laid the tray down on the gray marble hearth, not wanting to bend with her back to him.

Cioccolata and caffè.”

“We don’t have coffee. It’s too expensive.”

“I’ll pay for it.” He swung into sitting, hunched and rubbing his neck. “I’m getting one of my headaches.”

“It’s the weather.” Donatella offered him a drink.

He accepted it, the tips of his fingers friendlier than they should have been. “A veil over the sun, like a woman at Messa.”

He tasted it. “Ah. Fresco.”

“Squeezed this morning. Nonna says it’s good for clearing the voice.”

Cara Nònna.” He raised his glass, then emptied it with a kiss on its rim. “I’ve heard she was very rebellious. I wonder you didn’t become the same.”

“I wasn’t meant to.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it didn’t happen.” She was still holding the folder.

“I believe that’s why you’ve come?”

He moved slowly to make space on the table where his inventions were layered and sprawled, so many at once. By the time she placed the copy there he was sitting once more, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

“You can let me know.” She felt intrusive. “I’ve never seen you at Maddalena before.”

He rose, admitting his rudeness. “I was testing the sound for a wedding there.”

“It must be a special one.”

“Ah. I’ll make it so.” His teeth showed. “Così.” He leaned over the table, the side of his face long and angled, eyelashes still and mouth taut, the first page flipped for the second, the second for the third, every one after that as unremarkable.

“I’m untrained.”

He looked at the first page again, his index finger, chin, and muted hum following the stanzas. “Ah. You see. Just a little more space here and this note a little higher, the words not quite aligned.”

Her hope of impressing him was gone.

“No, no.” He showed sensitivity to being misunderstood. “Even my last copyist, a priest, cursed my sloppiness.”

“I did my best.”

“Ah. Anyway, there are many arie in the serenata, besides duetti and trii and sinfonie. I need copies of each by—you saw the date; barely a month away. Before that for rehearsal.” He closed the folder, falling back on the settee. “And only so-called musicisti in Genova, too quick or too slow or distracted by ambizione. Will you do more for me?”

She had to consider. His reputation. Her motivation. She couldn’t sign her name to the work, freely spend any payment, or even show some pride. Sneaking around, her aunt would eventually find out and put a stop to it anyway.

“Is that cake?”

“Yes.”

“For the flies?”

“Oh.” She rescued the plate.

He took a slice, eating it almost without chewing. “As we live dangerously opening windows.”

He reached for another, nodding for her to take what was left.

“All right,” she answered.

Bene allora.”

“I mean … I will help you.”

Mangia.”

“Oh, yes.” She broke a corner of the last piece on the plate.

He got up to pour her a glass of limonata, staring as her lips, covered in crumbs, finally took a sip.

From Chapter Five of A House Near Luccoli by DM Denton, published by All Things That Matter Press, available in Print, Kindle, Audio Book and NOOK Book Editions

©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.

How to Flee From Sorrow

Or how to continue making masterpieces despite “a few” missteps…

The other day fellow author, Margaret Evans Porter, let me know that BBC Radio 4 was putting on a drama about Alessandro Stradella, the focus of my novel A House Near Luccoli.

How to Flee From Sorrow is wonderfully written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, superbly acted, and punctuated by Stradella’s music exquisitely performed by the program’s Director of Music, musicologist and violinist Alberto Sanna. It initially aired live, a little too early in the morning for me due to the time difference. However, it was recorded (about an hour long) and is now available over the next 29 days for listening to.

It covers Stradella’s time in Rome, Venice, and Turin … and Genoa (where my novel picks up his story); wittingly, imaginatively, and entertainingly representing the man, his genius and fateful recklessness. A beautiful production and well-worth sitting back for an hour to listen to. It made me want to write about Stradella all over again!

Listening to a radio drama is not unlike reading, in that it requires the listener/reader to visualize what is spoken/written. Of course, the onus is on the creator to offer something that gives the listener/reader no choice but to engage their senses and imagination. This production really succeeds in doing so.

If you’ve read A House Near Luccoli, I hope you will take the time to listen to How to Flee From Sorrow, to enjoy it in itself and as it gives some backstory to my fictional interpretation of Stradella in Genoa.

If you haven’t yet read the novel, this radio drama may well pique your curiosity enough to do so. I hope so!

So, get a cup of coffee or tea, put aside a little time and your feet up, and enjoy…

How to Flee From Sorrow

Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682) conjured music of sublime formality out of a life of chaotic violence. At a time when composers were expected to abase themselves before their patrons, Stradella swindled his, and seduced their mistresses before falling foul of hired assassins. Our central characters are all real historical figures, brought back to life by Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

How to Flee From Sorrow_peHere is Alberto Sanna performing Alessandro Stradella’s Two-Part Sinfonia no.9 in G major