I first heard of ‘earworms’ on the radio a few months ago. How horrid, I thought, but don’t worry, they’re not related to earwigs. It’s a good name for the thing it describes – those maddening tunes that keep going round and round in your head, something akin to a ‘haunting melody’ perhaps, but more irritating.
It occurred to me that there’s quite a few ways that music can drive a person slightly mad, ask the neighbours of someone learning the drums, trumpet or bagpipes.
I’m lucky enough to sing in a small choir, and a few years ago the choirmaster presented us with a song by Gesualdo, a composer I’d never heard of. The song was incredibly difficult and sounded so discordant, I thought we must have got it wrong
In fact, we were right, and when I remarked that it was rather avant garde, the choirmaster laughed and said, ‘What do you expect from Gesualdo?’
As I had no expectations at all, I thought I’d best go and do some research. Goodness me, what a lot there was to find out! Don Carlo Gesualdo was an Italian Prince who lived in the late fifteenth century, contemporary with Shakespeare and Elizabeth I.
Could it be, I wondered, that the music sounded so strange, because Gesualdo himself was extremely strange?
As I uncovered his story, full of debauchery, madness and even murder, I was struck by a witness statement of a poor servant girl caught up in the middle of the mayhem. What on earth must it have been like for someone like that, completely at the mercy of the aristocrats and their perculiar foibles?
That’s when the idea for my novel, Secret of the Song, first took hold. I discovered I wasn’t alone in being intrigued by Gesualdo’s story. There have been many re-tellings, in film, opera, and even ballet, but I couldn’t find a novel, although there is likely to be one somewhere.
I doubt that young Silvia Albana, my heroine, has figured before, and certainly not starring in my imaginary story that surrounds her
Back at choir practice, we tried singing the song (usually called madrigals if they’re from that period of history), all over again. It didn’t go much better. That wasn’t like us. We could sing most things well with a little effort. Could it be, that the music had some sort of negative effect on us?
Remember the earworms? Just exactly how haunting, I thought, could a melody be?
There was the second strand of my novel. Secret of the Song is a Time-slip. In alternating chapters Silvia’s past story of deceit and death unfolds, whilst in the present, Lisa becomes convinced that a newly discovered Gesualdo madrigal is actually cursed. Can she find out what mystery lies behind the discordant harmonies? Will she solve the song’s secret before her relationship with Jon breaks for good and harm befalls them all?