The Musician’s Daughter – Susanne Dunlap

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Theresa’s world is shattered on Christmas Eve when members of her father’s orchestra bring his broken body home. Her 8-year-old brother is devastated; her pregnant mother goes into shock. Murder is not unusual in eighteenth century Vienna but Theresa’s father was supposed to be performing with concertmaster Franz Josef Haydn at the court of Prince Esterhazy, not wandering on the banks of the Danube by a Gypsy encampment. His valuable violin is missing; Theresa removes an odd gold pendant from his neck.

No one has any answers for her but Haydn gives the family his own Christmas bonus from the prince and hires fifteen-year-old Theresa to help him write down his music. Theresa’s father had a secret life his family was completely unaware of—Haydn has a secret that will end his career and his own clandestine political activities if it is discovered. He is losing his sight. Because Theresa is a fine musician, trained by her father, she can transcribe Haydn’s singing into orchestration. But her hopes of using her viola to earn a living by teaching music are dashed when her mother sells the instrument to pay for her brother’s apprenticeship with a luthier.

There is far more peril around the musical performances of a court than might be expected. A wealthy uncle who could provide a dowry for Theresa is a dangerous blackguard. The Roma people Theresa encounters when she braves a trip to their camp to find out how her father was killed are not crude and threatening—they are talented, intrepid and in debt to her father. They also recognize the mysterious gold necklace that Theresa now wears.  She comes quickly to rely on a young musician who tries to help her while protecting secrets of his own—and realizes she is attracted to him. Haydn knows more than he is telling. The more she finds out about her father the deeper the mystery and the greater the menace.

The Musician’s Daughter is a fast-paced, historical YA with a daring and self-aware heroine who pushes back against the conventions of her time. She wants to know why her father died. She wants her own choice for marriage and she wants to play the violin—the instrument she loves best. She opposes all the forces arrayed against her quietly but insistently. The portrayal of the society that makes no allowances for a young woman’s ability and gifts reminded me of Rita Charbonnier’s Nannerl, Mozart’s big sister who was a musical prodigy, denied her talent and opportunity because scarce resources would always be given to a brother. In fact, Charbonnier is included in the author acknowledgements so there may be a cabal of novelists out there, righting history’s wrongs against talented women, real and fictional. We can only hope. Meanwhile, I’m passing this book to my seasoned in-house YA critic. I suspect we will agree that it was worth the read.

The Musician’s Daughter   Susanne Dunlap | Bloomsbury U.S.A.   2009

See related post: Mozart’s Sister



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