So I was having a beer with Elspeth Davis talking about how much we love The Lion in Winter. She asked me to write a piece about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I thought it would never happen.

There isn’t a lot of good text from the period to use, and I’d want to build a character that isn’t dominated by the men in her life. Then The Sound Ensemble asked me to write them a new piece. I did some research. And yes, there isn’t a lot of text by Eleanor that’s suitable to build a piece of music on (mostly what we have are formal letters granting this or that estate or abbey freedom from taxation; deregulation 12th century style).

But then it turned out that Eleanor of Aquitaine had written Hildegard of Bingen a letter asking for advice. And we have Hildegard’s reply!

History doesn’t record a lot of powerful women. And when it does, we get them in isolation, as solitary figures, exceptions to the rule of men. Patriarchy today still succeeds by isolating women from each other, both in the present, and from their historical antecedents. But here was a chance to tell a story of two of most influential women of the 12th century talking to each other!

So at least one piece for mezzo and orchestra passes the Bechdel Test.

I just needed to find a poet, preferably a woman, to write something to take the place of Eleanor’s missing letter. So I looked up Tania Asnes, who I worked with on 24mag back in the day. She leapt at the project and turned in a great poem. I interspersed some Bernart de Ventadorn (who followed Eleanor to England), and we had a piece!

The Sound Ensemble is premiering the whole thing, with Elspeth singing, tomorrow night on King FM’s Northwest Focus Live, and then live in concert the following evening in Seattle.

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