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Music & Silence Paperback – May 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Rose Tremain deserves a hallelujah chorus dedicated to her alone. A decade after the appearance of Restoration, with its superb evocation of the British baroque, comes her glorious and enthralling Music and Silence. Like the earlier novel, this one is a treasure house of delights--as haunting as it is pleasurable and teeming with real and imagined characters, intrigues, searches, and betrayals. The vivid scenes loop in and out, back and forth, like overlapping and repeated chords in a single, delicious composition.

The year is 1629, and King Christian IV of Denmark is living in a limbo of fear for his life and rage over his country's ruin, not to mention his wife's not-so-secret adultery. He consoles himself with impossible dreams and with music, the latter performed by his royal orchestra in a freezing cellar while he listens in his cozy chamber directly above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves. The queen, meanwhile, detests nothing more. The duty of assuaging the king's miseries falls to his absurdly handsome English lutenist, Peter Claire, who resigns himself to his (so to speak) underground success:

They begin. It seems to Peter Claire as if they are playing only for themselves, as if this is a rehearsal for some future performance in a grand, lighted room. He has to keep reminding himself that the music is being carried, as breath is carried through the body of a wind instrument, through the twisted pipes, and emerging clear and sharp in the Vinterstue, where King Christian is eating his breakfast.... He strives, as always, for perfection and, because he is playing and listening with such fierce concentration, doesn't notice the cold in the cellar as he thought he would, and his fingers feel nimble and supple.
Other stories, each of them full of fabulous invention, intertwine with these musical machinations. There is the tale of the king's mother, who hoards her gold in secret; the tormenting memory of his boyhood friend, Bror; and the romance between Peter Claire and the queen's downtrodden maid, Emilia. And while the author paid meticulous mind to her period settings, her take on desire and longing has a very modern intensity to it, as if an ancient score were being performed on a contemporary (and surpassingly elegant) instrument. --Ruth Petrie --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As she proved in Restoration, Tremain can write literary historical novels whose period details encompass the social and intellectual currents of their time and place. This dazzlingly imaginative, powerfully atmospheric work is set mainly in 17th-century Denmark. One of the protagonists is English, however, and Tremain captures the sensibilities of natives of both countries. British lutenist Peter Claire arrives in Copenhagen in 1629 to join the orchestra of King Christian IV. Depressed after a doomed love affair with a soulful Irish countess, Peter finds his melancholy mood mirrored by that of the king, who is beset by both financial and marital crises. That fruitless wars and profligate spending by the Danish nobility have depleted the country's coffers is the king's public woe; privately, his heart is anguished by the behavior of his consort, Kristen Munk, who despises her own children, keeps her spouse from her bed and is carrying on with a German mercenary. Recognizing in Peter's handsome countenance a resemblance to a lost childhood friend, Christian declares that Peter is the "angel" who will help solve his personal and national problems. Tremain's complex plot is built in small increments. Excerpts from the brazenly selfish Kirsten's diary alternate with the points of view of dozens of others, including Kirsten's lady-in-waiting Emilia Tilsen. Kirsten deems Emilia irreplaceable and prevents her from openly acknowledging her feelings for Peter. Love--requited and thwarted, healthy and perverted, damaging and healing--is one theme of the novel, represented by six pairs of lovers. Love is inextricably tied to the power to enslave; perhaps it's a form of enchantment, of which another manifestation is music. Tremain builds her narrative via alternating voices blending like the solos of musical instruments. Threading irony among its many leitmotifs (Christian IV, for example, who understands that music can "lead to the divine," subjects his musicians to brutal living conditions), the narrative sweeps to a dramatic crescendo, with several characters in mortal danger and the prospect of tragedy everywhere. Yet it ends in felicitous harmony, a triumph of storytelling by a master of the art. 9-city author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743418263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743418263
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,040,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Big and bawdy, hilarious and dark, grotesque and graceful, this winner of Britain's Whitbread Award explores complex themes of love, beauty, power and ego, betrayal, politics, ambition and selfishness.
With the intricate structure of a masterful musical piece (like the beautiful air that tragically obsesses one of the minor characters), the story is set in vivid 17th century Denmark and centers around Peter Claire, English lutenist. Arriving in Copenhagen in 1629 to join the Royal Orchestra of King Christian IV, Claire is aghast to discover he will be playing in a cold, dank wine cellar, open to the elements so the wine may breathe. The orchestra's miserable confinement serves the king's ego and ideas of beauty. Through an ingenious system of pipes, the music rises upward without distortion so the disembodied sound appears ghostly or heaven-sent. For Christian, enjoyment without human distraction; for his guests an impressive marvel.
Point and counterpoint, other voices rise as Tremain shifts the narrative among characters. Lusty, beautiful, adulterous young Kirsten, the King's consort who will never be queen, trapped by Christian's love for her, determines to drive him to indifference. Her favorite handmaid, Emilia, thrust from her family by her father's lust for his new wife, awakens to Peter's true love. The King, sunk in fear and melancholy over a fortuneteller's prophecy and the collapse of his once lofty ambitions, ruminates over his passion for perfection and the betrayal of his childhood friend.
Captivated by Peter's angelic beauty, Christian fastens on the lutenist. Likewise captivated by Emilia's melancholy innocence, Kirsten will not be separated from Emilia. Both use their minions without regard for their own wishes.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is my first exposure to the writing of Rose Tremain. I cannot put this book is with me constantly. I wish I could simply stop my life for a full day, to journey back to 17th century Denmark, instead of snatching moments of it here and there.
Her characters are so vivid, and so delightfully crafted! I don't feel like an outside observer, but I feel part of the story itself. And every so often Ms. Tremain turns a phrase that I must stop and relish, read and reread, only to go back to it later on to enjoy it yet again. Marvelous writing. I can hardly wait to explore her other titles.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
I would never read a novel in "historical romance" genre, which is what I assumed _Music and Silence_ was when I first saw it in paperback while living in the UK last summer. One day I commented to a friend (an Oxford postgraduate student in early modern British and European history) that I hadn't read a good historical novel in a while. As a student of early modern English history, I have often been disappointed in an author's research concerning and story development within such a rich and vibrant context. My friend recommended _Music and Silence_ as an antidote to my ennui. I bought the book the next day and didn't want to put it down for the following four. I would have read it faster but I didn't want the book to end!
Having bought it in Britain, I read a different edition from that which most Americans will see; for that I make no apologies. I must say that "The best thing from Denmark since 'Hamlet'" was NOT emblazoned on my copy and I don't see the wisdom behind that marketing tactic. The image--a portrait of King Christian right-side-up and, below it, an upside-down portrait of the Queen--is not only visually appealing, but its significance deepens as the story unfolds. Why the American edition has a different cover mystifies me.
Anyway, since it's been a while since I read the book and I (in a moment of silliness) lent my copy to someone who never returned it, I can't comment in great detail on the strengths and weaknesses of the book (others before me have provided many helpful remarks to that end).
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Hickman on April 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Rose Tremain's "Music and Silence" marks her return both to the historical novel and to the 17th century. As in her earlier, supreior novel, "Restoration," she treats her readers to a behind-the-scenes look at the private lives of the nobility, as told from the perspective of fictionalized factotums who are but pawns in the hands of their betters. The narrative focus shifts back and forth among a large cast of characters, which includes King Christian of Denmark and his Royal Consort, Kirsten Munk, but the heart of the novel is really an English lutenist, Peter Claire, who falls in love with one of Kirsten's women-in-waiting, the emotionally fragile Emilia, and in whose features the King senses the angelic presence of a childhood friend. There are palace plots and intrigues to unravel, such as that of Kirsten's own mother to replace her in the king's affections with a serving wench, and skeletons in the royal closet, chief among which is Christian's mistreatment of the very friend, Bror Brorson, of whom Peter is a reminder, in an act of perfidy that continues to haunt him into old age. But the story is best when it focuses on the fates of lesser mortals, such as Peter and Emilia, whose happiness is imperiled by the piques and passions of their royal employers, although the king's coming to terms with the memory of Bror makes for a satisfying story arc that gives the novel closure. The historical backdrop to "Music and Silence" is much less flamboyant, and therefore less compelling, than it was in "Restoration," which drew upon the plague and the fire of London, but its quieter story is no less engrossing, and no less instructive of the period it embodies. All in all, a good read.
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