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Music and Silence

by Rose Tremain

Winner of the 1999 Whitbread prize.

It is 1629 in the court of King Christian IV of Denmark and the country is facing ruin. A young English lute player, Peter Claire, is enlisted into the Royal Orchestra to play for the King, whose love of music is what comforts and bolsters him through these difficult times. Peter soon realises that all is not well at court and, as the players suffer horrendous hardship in the freezing cellar where they are required to perform, the tale unfolds.

Assembled in this novel is a huge cast of characters, the principals of which are given their voice in short chapters. The King's scheming wife, Kirsten Munk, adulteress and hater of music, speaks through her private journal (a literary treat in itself) in which she describes her love affairs and scheming ways.

Individuals' stories are woven through the book connecting the characters. Peter's love for Emilia, Kirsten's maid; Emilia's traumatised little brother Marcus and his strange imagined world; the King's mother who hoards her cache of gold that could save her son from ruin; the King's haunting memories of his boyhood friend Bror Brorson; the citizens of Numendal who suffer great hardship because of the King's botched attempt to plunder silver from their region in an attempt to save the country; the Italian-Irish countess with whom Peter has an affair and her husband who has been driven to insanity in his obsession to transcribe the sublime musical arrangement that he hears in his dreams and much more.

Rose Tremain has said in interviews that while she was researching this book that, rather than make volumes of historical notes, she collected anecdotes that sparked her imagination. And what an imagination! This is a novel that teems with intrigues, doomed love affairs, betrayals, cruelty and sadness, overlapping and intertwining to a magnificent whole.

Read our interview with Rose Tremain.


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