December in Florence offers the perfect tinsel-touched backdrop for fairytales, and the marvelous story of female piano duo Mademoiselles Sarabande seems to pop off of a printed page. Inseparable since childhood, Carlotta Forasassi and Elettra Capecchi look at the world with wide-eyed enthusiasm and tickle their instrument with the same confidence of long-time friends, reinterpreting tunes by composers Scott Joplin and George Gershwin alongside the lesser-known Ernesto Nazareth and Darius Milhaud. Their first album As Before (AlfaMusic) dropped on November 23 and the two will be presenting it to the public on December 20 at the Museo di Casa Martelli.
Michelle Davis: Tell us about how your hands first joined across the keyboards, the beginning of this musical sisterhood and the story behind your name.
MS: Our friendship goes way back to when we were just children and would sit in our piano teacher Gelsomina Romano D’Atri’s living room, waiting for our turns. We bonded immediately, sharing sheet music and lavender-infused tissues to dry our sweaty little hands, overcome with emotion. Those fragrant hankies actually followed us all the way to our piano diploma. Our musical project was born out of a desire to fine-tune friendship and instrument. Up until that moment the piano had been the one thing we hadn’t actually shared! Mademoiselles Sarabande are two “mad demoiselles” Sarabande, named after the old triple-meter dance that calls for a slow close embrace.
MD: As Before was made possible thanks to donations by and the support of many of your fans who helped you raise funds through crowdsourcing platform MusicRaiser in 2015. Much has happened since. Tell us about this long-awaited endeavor.
MS: It truly was a whirlwind of emotions from start to finish—a smile lingered on our faces for days, even after the campaign reached its goal, because of the amount of trust, love and support we received. Initially the album’s title was supposed to be Caramel Mou, but as we moved on we felt that the work had taken on a nostalgic blue undertone that only an English title could convey, so we chose to name it after the title of one of the songs that’s particularly dear to us since it was written for piano four hands by our producer and mentor Enrico Pieranunzi and his father Alvaro, a great jazz guitarist. Enrico composed a version just for us and this previously unreleased track will be played and heard as before.
MD: Let’s talk about Enrico Pieranunzi, a key figure on Italy’s jazz scene and one of the main driving forces behind your record. How did this collaboration come into being?
MS: Enrico Pieranunzi was an unexpected and unfathomable gift. Our admiration for his work first developed in a music store in Porto Azzurro, on Elba Island. One evening, we were strolling along, ice-creams in hand, when we were captivated by a hauntingly beautiful melody. We went into the store and the owner handed us Pieranunzi’s album Racconti Mediterranei. We were hooked.
A few months later he was in Prato to present Impro Scarlatti, another masterpiece (only the brave play Scarlatti!). After the concert we asked him if he had any works for piano four hands and, intrigued, he kindly gave us his e-mail. An exchange ensued and we travelled to Rome to play for the Maestro, who has since become our friend, a pillar of generosity and intellect.
MD: We’re living in an empowering yet controversial era, especially when it comes to women and gender politics. What’s your experience as women, friends, mothers and musicians? Do you sometimes feel that there aren’t many women composers to look up to?
MS: Not really. We see music as a genderless creative force, which makes us feel almost invincible! As a duo we feel stronger, both in life and on the keyboard, because we know we can always rely on each other. All throughout history, women have been leaving their notes on the sheet: Wolfgang’s beloved sister, the talented Nannerl Mozart, Maria Callas and the unlucky yet eternal cellist Jacqueline du Pré… But our absolute favorite is contemporary pianist Martha Argerich. She’s a force of nature, a single mother of three, a larger-than-life musician who’s beaten cancer and is stronger than ever, while proudly baring her frailties. Just watch the documentary “Bloody Daughter”.
MD: How would you describe your relationship with Florence?
MS: Florence is home: so many of its gardens and living rooms have offered us warmth and a piano to play. We have performed everywhere, from the Sala del Buonumore of the Conservatorio Cherubini to the Teatro del Sale and local indie venue Glue Alternative Concept Space, which took a chance on us and actually rented a piano, dimmed the lights and opened its doors to a crowd of silent listeners. Florence is the city where we meet when we go on tour and it’s where our children Jacopo and Vittoria were born. Who knows what other amazing adventures it has in store for us!