discovering the hidden worlds of women composers


Back in Oxford, and it’s not been a soft landing. I’m not sure how it could have been, since I’ve been in such a privileged position, focusing on one thing, writing, and with the attitude that almost everything else is SEP.* Now, it’s back to the pleasures and pains of owning a home (boiler check this morning, electrician on Tuesday, shall I go on? No…); the pleasures and complications of extended family life (both my daughters moved back in while I was away – yes, I know, I should have changed the locks, but that seemed a little harsh. Only joking, my lovelies); and being back in the familiar but exhausting business of juggling different professional roles, whether teaching Shakespeare or directing Creative Writing programmes or reviewing book manuscripts for publishers. Oh, and next week, I’m giving a lecture for the Friends of Milton’s Cottage at the Mercers’ Hall in London, fittingly on ‘Milton in Italy’ – he had well over a year in the peninsula, funded by his Dad – and he had the time of his life. You can find out more about the event in London here – do note the reference to a generous reception after the lecture, hosted by the Mercers’ Company.

But, it’s good to be home. Spring in England, even in the rain, is a special time

bluebells – witness the bluebells in Harcourt Arboretum – and I’m really looking forward to my trip up to the city next week. Sometimes one doesn’t have to travel very far to get a sense of living history, and I’ve found, in my limited experience, that the Livery Companies of the City of London provide an almost direct line to the past. And I have, at last, got a recording of Fanny Hensel’s Reise Album, the pieces she wrote while, or immediately, after her own transformatory trip to Italy in 1839-40 – almost exactly 200 years after Milton’s journey there. You can find some of the music here – – with a helpful bit of commentary, and some rather harsh things to say about the quality of the performances.

I’m only just getting to know the CD, but already find the Capriccio wonderful, with clear links to Hensel’s masterpiece, Das Jahr. If ever I needed motivation as a writer, then listening to this music, hidden for so long, provides it.

*“The Somebody Else’s Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what’s more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people’s natural disposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain.” (Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything)


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