It feels like a lifetime since I began to write this book but it’s only been, what, nineteen years? Oh, and only four hundred years since the last duchess of Ferrara died in 1618. And finally, finally it is done and coming out in print – on 27 September 2018. More or less everything we have done with Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens in the last two decades has been part of the research process that has informed this tome – from the Dangerous Graces project and CD to Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, and all concerts, events, and shenanigans in between.
I really hope that anyone with an interest in the concerto delle dame, the Este princesses, and the nuns of Ferrara will want to read it. While there are music examples (and lots of them) there are also some fascinating, vivid stories about the lives of women in the sixteenth century. I grew very fond of the princesses, duchesses, ladies-in-waiting, nuns, mothers, wives, and daughters – all of whose daily lives were suffused with, and even controlled by music. But in amongst the singing, we have murders, love affairs, deaths in childbirth, betrayal, subterfuge, passion, tragedy, and joy: the characters are women as much as they are musicians, and they are still very much alive to me.
While I was researching and writing, I often joked about being visited by the Archive Angel, who would bring me serendipity in the form of documents, manuscripts, and music prints that helped me weave a story that stretches from one end of the century to the next. I don’t know who exactly she is, but she is probably named Lucrezia or Leonora. Sometimes she frustrated me by keeping me from seeing a document until I was in a position to know what it was (the AA was very good at closing archives at short notice) but much more often she would lift me from days of fruitless and despondent labour by leading me to a description of a singer or a book that belonged to a duchess, precisely in places I did not expect to find them.
I know there is so much more left to discover about the generations of Este women and their associates – and I hope that the book will inspire a new raft of scholars and musicians to pick up the many loose ends I could not follow. I look forward to hearing from anyone who has the energy to read it through – tell me what you think, ask me questions! Comment on the blog or email me on laurie-at-musicasecreta-dot-com!