Unusual Historicals Q & A with DM Denton:
When and how were you 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! Don’t tell my former boss but as soon as my computer booted up I Googled composers named Alessandro, scrolling down all the entries for Scarlatti to finally find a 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, has that begun to change. In fact, I just discovered that Stradella’s “Sonata in D Major for Trumpet and Strings” was included in the soundtrack for the movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
How did your interest in Alessandro Stradella grow to the point of wanting to write about him?
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.
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 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 meeting and 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, I think, essentially remains an interior study of character and circumstance.
What surprised you the most in your 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; but, also, in its medieval center, a labyrinth of narrow caruggi (alleyways) full of poverty, danger and sudden beautiful entrances to half-hidden palazzi. It is 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.
Were you tempted to write yourself into any of the characters?
I was more than tempted. 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.
How did you write about music and are you a musician yourself?
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 2012 by DM Denton
How long did it take you to find a publisher for the novel, and what are you currently working on?
From completion to publication of A House Near Luccoli took about four years. Initially, I had submitted to literary agents for a year or so, but—perhaps sooner than I should have—gave up; except for creating a website which was eventually noticed by the novelist Mariana Julia Neary who was influential in my signing with All Things That Matter Press. My affiliation with this small publisher has proved to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me, not only because of their willingness to publish the novel, helping me to make it the best it could be while honoring its vision and voice even to the extent of using my own artwork and design for the cover; but also because of the dedication and ongoing patience and encouragement they extend to all their authors.
I am currently working on a sequel to A House Near Luccoli which I hope to have completed by late spring or early summer. I continue to write poetry and small prose pieces accompanied by artwork for my blog, and have just published an illustrated poetry journal entitled, A Friendship with Flowers.
A House Near Luccoli
is available in Paperback and Kindle Edition at amazon.com
and as a NOOK Book at barnesandnoble.com
; soon to be an audio book.
You can also find her on:
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