Tag Archives: Vienna

The Musician’s Daughter – Susanne Dunlap

Click to buy from Amazon

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


The Cocoa Conspiracy – Andrea Penrose

Click to buy from Amazon

The delectable thing about immersing yourself in reading and classical music is that the combination is pure pleasure. Stir some chocolate into that mix and you have truly achieved nirvana. So, this raw, chilly, gloomy day in New York City is as blissful as it gets. The Cocoa Conspiracy, a Regency mystery by Andrea Penrose is replete with inscrutable villains, crafty heroines, dashing heroes, unbreakable codes and a plot to subvert high-level European diplomacy in the wake of Napoleon’s exile to Elba. It is also a divine, from-scratch, chocolate cookbook with a recipe for a mouthwatering confection opening each chapter.

Add to this bracing amalgamation the open rehearsal at the New York Philharmonic I just attended and life seems to resemble a physics equation. Everything is connected. The Phil played Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the Eroica, that he wrote for and intended to dedicate to Napoleon, believing that they shared a devotion to Hellenic principles of democracy. Just before the debut of the piece, Beethoven received word that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor, abandoning his enlightened politics for the role of dictator. Beethoven was so furious and disillusioned that he ripped up the cover sheet for his composition and violently erased the dedication to Napoleon on the first page of the score, naming it instead a work to commemorate a nameless hero. So I make some notes about a fun murder mystery with a head full of strings, flutes, oboes, bassoons and trumpets—a contemporaneous soundtrack for chocolate-covered literary mayhem.

First, the recipes are to drool over. I intend to copy a number of them before I return this book to the library. (Irredeemable chocoholic.) Second, Andrea Penrose writes a good Regency mystery. Lady Arianna, Countess of Saybrook, is one tough cookie who doesn’t hesitate to deploy her considerable feminine wiles in the service of exposing villainy. Actually, that’s probably my one quibble with the book. I got a little tired of her seduction of the bad guys to deflect attention from the efforts of her equally keen, morally upright husband Sandro, the Earl of Saybrook, to uncover dastardly deeds and save European civilization—or at least key members of his family and his own neck. Arianna can shoot with deadly aim, connect a well-placed kick, disguise herself as a man undetected, outrun most of the scoundrels and out-think conspirators. But her default is racy innuendo and, by the end of the book, it was enough already.

Nevertheless, first-rate genre book, reasonably surprising plot, excellent sidekick friend, interesting history, well-paced, more than enough hot chocolate (the Saybrooks drink a lot of hot chocolate), and yummy recipes. I will hunt for the first book in the series—this is #2–and sign up for the third episode which is yet to be published. An entertaining read and probably fattening as well—nothing’s perfect.

The Cocoa Conspiracy: A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery (Lady Arianna Hadley Mystery)
Andrea Penrose | Obsidian  2011

The Mozart Conspiracy — Scott Mariani

Click to buy from Amazon

I have to stop picking up books with the names of composers in the titles. At least I have to stop adding them to my reading stack before I scope them out. The Mozart Conspiracy by Scott Mariani was a fast-paced read but it really exhausted me. In true thriller fashion, the book opened with some gruesome and perverted incidents that were creepy enough to alert a sane reader to the havoc to follow. No claims for sanity here—reading a book a day in medias res is a less than rational challenge. So I read on, knowing full well things would get more horrible as the pages turned. They did.

Ben Hope is a former SAS officer, member of a British special services unit of highly trained operatives who carry out the most critical and dangerous missions. These days he’s a hero-for-hire, rescuing children from pedophile rings and solving complex and deadly crimes. Ben’s friend Oliver Llewellyn dies a suspicious death and Ben is contacted by an old flame, Oliver’s younger sister Leigh, a world famous opera star who happens to be the girl Ben left behind.

The twist is the Mozart letter, a document discovered in the hollow leg of an antique piano by the Llewellyns’ father. The letter contains a secret that reveals something important about Mozart’s puzzling death and may prove that he was murdered. Some people will stop at nothing to get the rolled parchment in Mozart’s handwriting. Ben has to piece together what Oliver stumbled across as he researched the letter, and how that may have killed him. Leigh is in the same danger after she reveals on television that she will carry on her beloved brother’s research, using the materials he sent to her.

A conspiracy encompassing an ancient order that may still exist, a mysterious estate with a ritual assassination room in the cellar, a rising young politician with a green agenda and sadistic enemies, the terrified opera diva, a dogged Viennese gumshoe who is working in a compromised police department, a young kid who gets kidnapped a lot but remains resilient, a renegade nun on the lam from the law in a totalitarian regime, a scarred and deformed very very bad guy in a large cast of unsavory characters, all this captures and nearly kills Ben who wants to save his former lover and avenge his friend.

The torture is ugly, the weapons are plentiful and powerful, a shocking thing happens and then an even worse thing happens and then it gets nasty. Ben Hope has an astonishing ability to withstand injury and pain and escape imprisonment, imminent death and sophisticated traps. Many things become weapons and many weapons are lovingly described and demonstrated. Mariani would seem to know his knives and guns. He doesn’t quite know his opera, which undercuts the credibility of the tale at a few points.

Leigh Lllewellyn is about 34, still early in an operatic career. As a big star she would sing the major roles. As a trained singer she would choose roles carefully to mature and preserve her voice. But Mariani has her singing Verdi’s Macbeth, Puccini’s Tosca and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte—the Queen of the Night role. The Verdi and the Puccini call for darker, full-bodied voices with the heavier timbres that a singer develops over time. Singing those roles too soon will imperil a soprano’s top notes and the topmost belongs to the Queen of the Night, a high F above high C. No way does one singer tackle all those parts at the same point in her career. So, being an opera nerd, the discrepancy made me wonder what else might have been lightly researched.

The violence is convincing, though, if sickening. And Ben loves Leigh, the two of them dash all over Europe in every type of conveyance, evil triumphs again and again and many bodies pile up—one has an iron skillet half-buried in his brain, courtesy of our clever hero. It’s a very bloody book and most of the characters die and the conspirators trace their lineage to a sect of the Masons, the organization Mozart belonged to and glorified with The Magic Flute.

Clues do fit together neatly; villains are beyond redemption; Leigh is beautiful and as good an actress as she is a singer; Ben finds it increasingly hard to protect her. Every beat is a fresh disaster. The Mozart Conspiracy earns its thriller stripes in an action movie explosion of nonstop brutality. Mozart isn’t very essential; he serves mainly as an excuse  for absolute carnage that continues senselessly after the book’s logical end. It seemed like too much to me. I would have preferred more Mozart and fewer maniacs and several dozen fewer murders in the mix.

 The Mozart Conspiracy: A Novel    Scott Mariani | Touchstone  2011