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Music and Silence

Music and Silence

Author(s): Rose Tremain

Location(s): Denmark

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical

Era(s): Early 1600s



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King Christian IV of Denmark is, in the year of 1630, living in a limbo of fear and rage for his life, his country’s ruin, and his wife’s not-so-secret adultery. He consoles himself with the weaving of impossible dreams and with music–played by his Royal Orchestra in the freezing cellar at Rosenborg while he listens in his cosy Vinterstue above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves. Kirsten, his devious wife, is a continual maker of Beautiful Plans to outwit, avenge, feed her greed. And she detests music.

The awkward duty of assuaging the King’s miseries falls to his English lutenist, Peter Claire, his “Angel”, whilst Emilia Tilsen must bend to Kirsten’s every whim. Yet what Peter and Emilia seek is each other, largely in silence both necessary and cruelly imposed. Other stories, each of them full of fabulous and often joyful and witty invention, intertwine through the Royal Court’s machinations: the King’s mother who hoards her gold in secret: his boyhood friend, Bror, a tormenting memory: the villagers who suffer and wait in the frozen Numedal: Emilia’s mute young brother Marcus. And in Ireland, Johnnie O’Fingal, once a kind father and husband, is driven mad by hearing music of utter divinity in his dreams, but which neither he nor Peter Claire can make earthbound. His devoted but spirited wife has distracted herself with Claire, but now finds herself rejected. Palpable with desire and longing, this extraordinary narrative builds its grand themes in storytelling that is both profound and wonderfully satisfying.

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Winner of the Whitbread Novel Award 1999. Tremain directs the story with an eye to detail and wit and transports the reader to seventeenth century Denmark, where the air is crisp and smells of...

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