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.

Can it be four years already? 2 in 1 Book Giveaway!

To celebrate the fourth anniversary of the publication by All Things That Matter Press of my historical fiction A House Near LuccoliI’m running a Goodreads Giveaway!

This giveaway is for two signed copies—actually, each winner will receive two in one! Whoever wins this giveaway will also be sent a signed copy of the sequel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

goodreads-giveaway-sept-oct-2016-pptx-alt

 

Front with Spine and Tilted_pe croppedWhen Alessandro Stradella, the feted Baroque composer, takes up residence in her house, Donatella is drawn to him like a moth to a flame. The minuet of their attraction will keep you reading from the first page to the last. Full of lovely lyrical prose, ‘A House Near Luccoli’ gently transports the reader to 17th century Genoa, Italy to hear the exquisite music, smell the gardens, taste the food and wine, feel the summer heat, see the sunshine glittering on the ocean and the musical notes being carefully transcribed.

Casee Marie Clow, Literary Inklings ‘says’: A House Near Luccoli is as charmingly crafted as Stradella’s compositions, often mirroring their power, beauty, and delicate intricacy. It’s a novel at once intimate and expansive, quickly ushering the reader into the vivid 17th century world of Stradella and exposing the history of a lesser-known genius while enfolding them in a fictitious story of romance, friendship, art, and intrigue. ~

Front and Spine Tilted_pe croppedIn To A Strange Somewhere Fled, after the sudden end to her collaboration with composer Alessandro Stradella, Donatella moves from Genoa to join her parents in a small village in Oxfordshire, England. The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets, and an irrepressible spirit have stowed away on her journey. Haunted by whispers and visions, angels and demons, will she rise out of grief and aimlessness? Her father’s friendship with the residents of Wroxton Abbey, who are important figures in the court of Charles II, offers new possibilities, especially as music and its masters ~ including the ‘divine’ Henry Purcell ~ have not finished with her yet.

The Historical Novel Society ‘says’: Music and passionate lyricism inform this book. Denton’s style of writing is poetic and musical itself … the book lingers in the mind like some elusive and beautiful tune heard through open windows on a summer’s day. Denton’s deep understanding and love for the music and musicians of this era are evident on every page and transport the reader. Lovers of poetry and music will enjoy this excursion to Baroque England …

What have you got to lose? If you belong to Goodreads, enter now!
If you don’t, join now (it’s free) and enter immediately after!

Good Luck!

 

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.

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

“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 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

 

Three Books with Genoa and Water with text a

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.

 

donatellasmallest© 2016 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.

Opening Excerpts & Watch the “Movies”

 

A House Near Luccoli

From the opening lines, this beautifully written historical novel effortlessly transports the reader into the very real world of the `forgotten’ 17th century composer, Stradella, and his relationship with the vividly imagined fictional protagonist, Donatella. In turns moving and exhilarating, sad and joyous … from exquisitely rendered intimate and searching conversations between Stradella and Donatella to the pace and excitement of the final scenes at the Carnevale, leading to a dénouement that is both an ending and a beginning. ~ reviewed by D. Bennison, Bennison Books

Read more reviews of A House Near Luccoli …

 

A House Near Luccoli Musical Instruments with text 1 picmonkey cropped

THE ARRIVAL
April, 1681

CHAPTER ONE

She didn’t fuss with her hair or use the vain clutter of the dressing table except to waste time rearranging it. Eventually she turned to what was behind her. Laid over a small unmade bed and the chair beside it were two fancy gowns, creased and dated, suiting a younger shape and needing somewhere to go. She was sure she wouldn’t wear them again.

“Donatella? Are you in your room?”

The lace might be salvaged, for she couldn’t be without lace, at least around her neck and, at most, edging her sleeves as well. Otherwise she dressed serviceably, invisibly, in gray or dark blue.

She no longer thought of being bolder or more submissive or, in a city on a bay-becoming-the-sea, swept away at last.

It was as if someone else recalled a ship, who sailed on it, and walking down a shady alley with a stranger. There was always the temptation of mixing imagination with reality, especially as the past was otherwise inalterable. Her reflection was plain in the mirror, her hair quickly pinned, her face flushed.

“Donatella, I need you!”

She moved to a corner table, begging light from a narrow window, cleaning brushes and closing colors yet to finish curled pictures of spring or begin the next season before it did. She had painted in brighter places, dreamed in them, too, and didn’t care who saw her as a dreamer, until she committed herself to being withdrawn and forgotten like a lunatic huddled in a corner, hardly knowing the difference between a smile and a frown.

“You might answer me!”

She took the green dress off the bed and pretended to wear it for a small stroll around the room. Then she walked into the hall as if out into the city; her city, at least, as it was also born of land and sea, formed by highs and lows, ruled by outer constraint and inner abandon, safe and sorry in disguise. 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. She was patron and prisoner of a gated entrance and more rooms than the closeness of the surrounding dwellings allowed, aspiring staircases growing them similarly into multiple stories. She could have done without so much unused furniture, mirrors, and silver to be cleaned but was greedily accustomed to a tenanted wealth of paintings, tapestries, frescos, and stained glass not created for outside views.

“There you are. What are you doing?”

Donatella had barely reached the doorway of her bedroom, throwing the dress in, not caring where it landed.

“Oh, it’s so sudden.” Her aunt gave her a key and feather duster for gentler work than Nubesta carrying broom and bucket, hastening an end to the long vacancy of the third floor apartment, a little unnerving to step into its past. It offered another chore for the young maid complaining about wiping tall windows while Donatella removed furniture covers and thought of her mother sitting there, writing more letters than she ever received.

The girl opened a window and the room to the street below, a rag-waving hand jumping out. “Up here! Up here!”

Donatella felt a shiver that shouldn’t have surprised her, the bumping and cursing of the movers fading into music and poetry from La forza dell’amor paterno as performed at the Teatro Falcone on Christmas Monday 1678. She had worn the green dress, agreeing to excessive curls and anticipation, Nonna encouraging her to fan away smoke from the chandeliers and smile although her shoes pinched. After the first act sonnets fell from garlanded boxes for those lucky enough to catch them; as much enthusiasm when the opera was finished. That was Donatella’s last trembling in applause and first glimpse of its beneficiary too remarkable for humility as he accepted a gold tray of the taffeta wrapped accolades. He was as well presented in a long shimmering coat with flared skirt, accented with a looped and knotted cravat, an undressed wealth of hair changing the angles of his face as he bowed and then again. Obviously this was the legend of subterfuge, here and there, elegant and rakish, kissing the hand of Centoventi, goddess of the stage. He was clever and foolish not to worry she took exception at his as intimate approval of the contralto said to be the daughter of a cook, nothing but wisdom and faithfulness in his deepest bow and sincerest smile towards Genoa’s Prince and Princess.

Even overlooked in the audience, Donatella felt he was a suitor offering the art of himself. So at least in the theater she could be chosen.

Nothing more intimate was expected, and shouldn’t be. Not even when their landlord, one of the Falcone’s managers, announced that Signor Stradella would be moving into their quiet world.

And unquiet hearts, resentment sounding in Signor Garibaldi’s teasing.

Like offering the pigeons to the cat! Aunt Despina couldn’t resist.

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.

Two large but struggling men maneuvered in a long walnut trunk with brass filigree corners and latch. They stood looking down the embossed hall to its sun-splashed end.

“Should we leave it here?” one of them asked.

“Why not?” Nubesta decided.

“He’ll put it where he wants.”

“No.” Donatella, not for the first time, had to correct her. “In the bedroom.”

The men grumbled, did as they were told, then left, returning with musical instruments, a pair of trestles, square board, small stool, and a plainer case rattling with poorly packed contents. The apartment was already furnished, not with the Garibaldi finest, but bees-wax polishing gave console tables, armoire, credenza, and bed posts a higher shine. By the time citywide bells announced the vespers hour, Nubesta was done and resting on a frayed settee without any guilt for Donatella reaching over her to wipe the beveled mirror above.

The movers were less irritated as they brought in one crate dropping heavy and another floating to the floor, talking about where they would go drinking. Nubesta followed them out to be sure they were gone.

“Look.” Donatella untied a note from around the handle of the fancier trunk.

“You know I can’t read.”

“To the most honorable ladies of this household, please make my bed with the hemp sheets, pillowcase and woolen blanket within. A.S.”

“Not such a gentleman,” Nubesta hoped.

The trunk’s carved exterior was scarred and the latch almost fell off when Donatella popped it to fold back the top like a book she shouldn’t read and hadn’t any reason to beyond the first page, the noted bedding on top. She relied on Nubesta’s willingness to go through Signor Stradella’s things that were neatly layered and smelled of parchment and resin; no surprise that he owned the finest neckties, cuffs, shirts, jackets, breaches, dressing gown, ribbons, kerchiefs, gloves, stockings, belts, and buckles, and silver instrument strings unwrapped from a silk-velvet cloth. Nubesta dug a little deeper, discovering two rosaries with gold medals, and a religiously embroidered runner with pointed ends and silk tassels.

“What is it?”

Donatella stretched it out, wondering, too. “A scapular, devoted to St. Dominic.”

“Why would he have it?”

“Let’s see to the bed.”

It seemed a shame to strip already made wealth for grey hemp and brown wool, squeezing a plump pillow like the best sausage meat into a thin and tasteless casement. They pulled the sheets tight, laid out the yarn-hemmed blanket, finishing with a swollen brocade cover-up, the room ready or not for its distinguished if disreputable new occupant. It was the second adjective Nubesta seemed to know the most about, as servants often did, talk amongst themselves both informed and ignorant.

“Another note.” The girl tugged at it.

Donatella was already fond of the forwardly fluid and looped handwriting. “Most honorable ladies, I imagine you hesitate. Please feel free to unpack and arrange my effects, like a puzzle, and see if you can know how I would like them. A.S.”

“For a prize?” Nubesta squirmed, waiting for Donatella’s next move.

“I don’t think we should.”

“You went through his clothes. What are a few knickknacks after that?”

“Take the cleaning things and tell my aunt we’re done.”

Nubesta obeyed sluggishly, the late afternoon warming the room’s new belongings, the key Donatella tied around her arm under her sleeve too prominent to forget there.

 

To A Strange Somewhere Fled

In her follow-up to A House Near Luccoli author D.M. Denton takes readers back to 17th century Europe, moving the story of impassioned young spinster Donatella from Stradella’s Genoa to the England of Henry Purcell. Irrevocable in its magic and intrepid in its storytelling, To a Strange Somewhere Fled is a fascinating and delectably original work that readers won’t soon forget. ~ Reviewed by Casee Marie Clow, Literary Inklings

Read more reviews of To A Strange Somewhere Fled 

 

To A Strange Somewhere Fled Instruments without text corrected 10-31-15

Settling

Chapter One

Wroxton, Oxfordshire, England, May 1682

There was music in the house, not entirely imagined. Mama was playing the spinet and singing a little like Nonna, but with less exclamation than anticipation. She stopped as the clock in the front hall chimed half-past six, and called her husband and daughter to supper.

For the second time that day she insisted on more fatty meats than soggy vegetables accompanied by glazed breads and followed by sharp cheeses as well as a fruit tart layered with thick cream or a pudding made with raisins, cloves and dates. Such a heavy meal late in the day, but Mama believed, as many Genoese did, the digestive powers were stronger during sleep.

She usually shrugged off the Captain complaining they spent too much on food. On that particular evening she implied it wasn’t enough. “Tomorrow we dine in style with the Baron.”

Was it the confinement of English rain and consolation of English suppers that changed her from being a woman worried over losing her looks and lover and willing to sacrifice for both, into one who wouldn’t even give up a second and thicker slice of roast beef?

The Captain shook his head. “We’re not invited for eating, Julianna, but dancing and other nonsense.”

“Then I must satisfy myself beforehand.” Mama laughed as she wiped her wide mouth. “Leftovers.” Her hand waved over the table and landed on her daughter’s arm. “It seems Donata won’t have much.”

“Little bread … cheese,” Donatella struggled with three words as if they were ten.

“You should have some meat,” her mother spoke so it was just between them, “or your blood will thin.”

Donatella’s father raised another issue with his eyebrows.

“But, Edward, I must for my girl to understand me. She’ll learn more English soon enough. Also, Lidia. Dear child. Why aren’t you dining with us? Since we can’t afford another servant, I won’t have her treated like one.”

The Captain didn’t react to his wife, but vaguely smiled at the little maid who needed something to do.

In his company, Lidia was deaf and dumb and lowered her eyes, perhaps reminded of her own father lost at sea although he still lived on it.

She did glance at Donatella, who was her confidant in feeling awkward and out of place. It wasn’t long since they had disembarked the cutter bringing more mail sacks than passengers from Calais, and stumbled tired and dirty into a weeping sky and welcome by Donatella’s mother. A friendly sailor was trusted with their trunks but not the cage purchased in Marseille, which Lidia carried until the Captain met them on the pier with a thin-wheeled wagon. He covered the cat cargo with his own coat, Mama’s Italian chatter compensating for his silence as they walked to the inn where they would catch the coach to London. A snowy stag on The White Hart’s whining sign encouraged him to finally say something, if only to quickly explain and wait for his wife to translate that ‘hart’ was an ancient term for a mature male deer. There wasn’t time to explore the castle presiding in falling clouds behind the town, but at least it was more distinct than on its chalky pedestal in a foggy first view from the channel. A few hours were enough to have an early dinner under low-timbered ceilings and near a brass laden fireplace, Mama devouring half a roasted chicken and a glass of port wine, the Captain savoring a minced-meat pie and kegged ale. Donatella and Lidia shared a platter of steamed oysters with the cats and each other, as though they hadn’t had enough of the sea.

If they had known how estranged they would soon be from it, the Captain wouldn’t have seemed irresponsible insisting on one last look at Dover’s harbor before the coach arrived with only ten minutes to spare for loading passengers inside, luggage on the back and hardier riders than they were on top.

Donatella and Lidia held the heavy carrier between them, Caprice and Bianchi quietly but pitifully complaining about their prolonged captivity. Mama sat next to Lidia and the Captain opposite her, a frail man and sizeable woman squeezing in to his side. Everyone was guarded, with limbs touching, body odors mixing, and coughs possibly infectious. It didn’t help that Lidia, Mama, and Donatella saying anything to each other pronounced them foreigners.

Fortunately, Donatella was next to the window and set her sight on stretches of woods and clusters of cottages, spired churches, the approach of towns and the clutter and curiosities of their streets, and even a cathedral where the couple got off and no one got on. The vacancy they left was just wide enough to allow the caged cats their own seating, but not for long. Before leaving Canterbury, the coach made another stop to pick up two musk-scented men who didn’t seem to notice the inconvenience they caused.

“Once we get to London, it will be easier,” the Captain said and Mama brought unsympathetic attention to them again. “The North brothers have offered their personal vehicle and driver to take us the rest of the way.”

They stayed overnight in Cheapside, the promised carriage arriving on time early the next morning. It made for a quicker and friendlier journey, and smoother, too. As the Captain pointed out, steel springs meant less bumps and jolts, while glass windows fogged but didn’t leak.

A little over a week later the rain was still falling. Donatella lost track of the days since she had seen the sun.

***

“I can’t wait to show you off.”

“Must I go out?” Donatella continued to resist her mother’s plans.

“Yes, you must.”

Lidia began clearing the table.

“Oh, no. How to convince her, Edward, she’s part of our family?”

“She’s too young.”  The Captain turned to his daughter. “It’s good you didn’t travel alone, my dear, but now what to do with the poor thing?”

Mama made a noise between a moan and a scream before pulling Lidia into a maternally tight embrace. Donatella was as embarrassed as Lidia, but not surprised.

“Martha,” Mama greeted a pear shaped woman wiping her hands on an already grimy apron, “you’re still here.”

“Ye knows I dont go home afore eight.” The middle-aged servant pulled on the sides of her cap, noticing what Lidia was doing. “Hey.”

Lidia offered a timid response.

“What? What did her say?”

“I think she wants to help.” The Captain pushed back his chair.

“Oh, I give her summat to do.”

The Captain stood up, straightening slowly to lean back against the long cluttered dresser behind him. “How’s that? You can’t even talk to her, Martha.”

“I need only set a bucket in her hand.”

Lidia made the sign of the cross and Mama moved towards the mystified girl again, just catching her hand this time.

“I don’t let my Joseph know there be Catholics or he wont let me work here.”

“Perhaps, Martha, it’s even worse that a bad Protestant pays you.” The Captain’s face was redder than usual as he left the room.

Martha, folding her arms over her large stomach, was even more irritated as she could only guess what Mama was saying. “Dear, Lidia. There’s something you can do. Bring the elderberry wine to the parlor and we’ll also indulge in a Popish prayer and penitent song. Will you join us, Donata?”

Like A House Near Luccoli, To A Strange Somewhere Fled
is also available as an Audio Book,
narrated by the same voice-over actor, Laura Jennings!

 

Thank you for your visit!

Historical Fiction & Meaning with DM (Diane) Denton

Thank you to Stephanie Hopkins for hosting me on Layered Pages and allowing me to take part in her Historical Fiction and Meaning series! It certainly challenged me to be more conscious about writing in this genre. I hope you will read the entire interview, which will only take five minutes or so. As always, I am grateful for those who visit here and hope I offer posts for your enjoyment, but also give you something to think about, and, perhaps, open up new vistas for your reading and reflection.

Here’s an excerpt:

Why Historical Fiction?

In hindsight, my journey towards writing historical fiction began in my early teens when I developed an insatiable appetite for classic literature, period films and plays, and Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and traditional music. I’ve long had a fascination with the clothes, customs, social and political issues of the past, and I’m attracted to the lives of writers, artists, musicians, intellectuals, and innovators, but, also, ‘ordinary’ folk like gardeners and domestics. All in all, it’s more comfortable for me to write within a historical context; I feel I can reveal myself and still remain hidden. I can indulge my old-fashioned sensibilities yet still oblige my progressive tendencies, because history isn’t static, somewhere dead in time, but a life force for the present and future.

Layered Pages

Diane Denton

I’d like to welcome DM (Diane) Denton to Layered pages to talk with me about the importance of Historical Fiction and why she chose this genre to write in. DM is a native of Western New York, is a writer and artist inspired by music, nature, and the contradictions of the human and creative spirit. Through observation and study, truth and imagination, she wanders into the past to discover stories of interest and meaning for the present, writing from her love of language, the nuances of story-telling, and the belief that what is left unsaid is the most affecting of all. Having first gone to the UK to study English literature and history at Wroxton College, an overseas campus of Farleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey, Diane remained in England for sixteen years surrounded by the quaint villages, beautiful hills, woods and fields of Oxfordshire’s countryside. She eventually returned to…

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Returning to a First View of Wroxton

Excerpt from Historical Perspectives of To A Strange Somewhere Fled

The Setting

Old Photo Village of Wroxton

Old photo of the Main Street and duck pond of Wroxton village

I hardly expected my 17th century Genoese journey through the writing of A House Near Luccoli to direct me back to Oxfordshire, England where I lived from 1974 to 1990. Then I began to consider a sequel that would require a destination for Donatella beyond Genoa. Her flight from grief returned me to a first view of “Wroces Stan” – old English meaning buzzards’ stone – a village mentioned in the Doomsday book grown out of ancient crossroads, valley slopes, ochre stone, straw thatch, Augustinian principals, and aristocratic privilege.

Where is Wroxton? Click here!

It was a place small enough to comfort and stately enough to unsettle, reclusive and inviting, its character formed as much by its lower as upper class  – as is seen in the character of demon-obsessed Tobias, who is based on a real village resident I had known – a world as wild as it was well-designed, its seasons defined by flowers, fungi, berries, and trees, ever increasing clouds, fog and frost, rain and more rain so sunny banks and deep shadows were always noticed.

Image corrected to original work. Colour space is Adobe RGB (1998) Gamma is Windows 2.2

Porch, Wroxton Abbey – early 17th century

Wroxton Abbey, situated in a secluded parkland to the southeast of the village, was documented as a manor in the 11th century. One hundred and twenty-eight years later, a tenant, Guy de Reinbeudcurt, founded an Augustinian priory there. Due to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, much of it was destroyed. What was left of its buildings and demesne was leased to the treasurer of Henry’s Court of Augmentations, responsible for the dissolved monasteries, Sir Thomas Pope, who was the founder of Trinity College, Oxford. In 1551 Sir Thomas granted his brother, John, a ninety-nine year tenancy, and in 1556 endowed the manor and lands to Trinity College that subsequently renewed the lease for John’s heirs.

Old Photo Great Hall Wroxton Abbey

Thanks to Fairleigh Dickinson University Wroxton College for this old photo of the Great Hall, including minstrel’s gallery. I can hear the 17th century violinist Nicola Matteis playing in the minstrel’s gallery – as Roger North put it “the staccatos, tremolos, divisions … every stroke delicious.”(Matteis is credited with changing the English taste for violin playing from the French style to the ‘newer’ Italian one)

Construction on the manor surviving as the central portion of its present structure was begun around the turn of the 17th century by John Pope’s son, William, the 3rd Earl of Downe. A lack of male descendants eventually passed the leasehold to the 3rd Earl’s daughters, and one of them, Frances, married Sir Francis North, the lawyer involved with the settlement of the Pope estate. Sir Francis was succeeded as 2nd baron by his son Francis; his great-grandson Frederick, the most famous North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, titled Lord, and serving as Prime Minister to George III, made extensive alterations to the grounds and some to the house. A library and chapel were most likely added by the famous architect and landscape designer Sanderson Miller in the mid 18th century, but a shortage of funds limited further enhancements. The current interior decoration and windows owe much to Prime Minister North’s granddaughter Baroness Susan, who also oversaw the completion of a south wing that finally gave the house symmetry as viewed from its west-facing front and fulfilled the North family motto: Animo et Fide Perage. Carry through to completion in courage and faith.

Cover Artwork cropped resized_pe cropped

Wroxton Abbey in the 1680’s by DM Denton

Baroness Susan’s Irish husband took her surname, and their son, William, managed the estate until his death in 1932 at the age of ninety-six, marking the end of over 250 years of the Norths’ occupancy. All the family’s effects were sold off and the Abbey was turned into a warehouse during WWII. In 1948, Trinity College of Oxford leased it to Lady Pearson, who rented out large portions, which caused extensive damage. Fairleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey purchased it in 1963 and undertook an enormous effort to repair and modernize the building as well as restore and enhance the gardens and pleasure grounds, creating the splendid campus celebrating its fifty year anniversary in 2015.

Visit and like Fairleigh Dickinson University Wroxton College Facebook Page.

Antique Print of Wroxton Abbey

Antique Print of Wroxton Abbey

I was a junior in college, accepted into the program at Wroxton Abbey to study English history, literature, and theater, when my life-changing connection to Wroxton Abbey and village was initiated. A three month semester spanning the last chilly damp weeks of an Oxfordshire winter and the muddy beginnings and eventual warming and burgeoning of its spring turned into sixteen simple and complicated years of my calling Wroxton home.

Spring flowers in woods

Spring Flowers by DM Denton imposed on real photo of Wroxton Abbey woods

As I began writing To A Strange Somewhere Fled, what I thought would come out of my memories and feared would be limited by my experience and prejudice slowly emerged from a more informed and imaginative perspective, a past long before mine that not only furthered Donatella’s exploration into life and love, but made me more understanding and appreciative of the unique opportunity I’d had once and then again: to linger and live in Wroxton and even the Abbey itself, and make a little private history of my own there.

That's me in 1974 - 2nd row from front, 4th from right

That’s me in 1974 – 2nd row from front, 4th from right

To A Strange Somewhere front cover