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Music & Silence (1999)

by Rose Tremain

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2712910,995 (3.77)228
In the freezing cellars of the palace, musicians play unseen for the haunted, cash-strapped Christian IV of Denmark. Meanwhile, his beautiful but petulant consort, Kirsten, plays out wild fantasies with her lover. In a stately home in Ireland, Countess O'Fingal mourns her husband's insane pursuit of a tune heard in a dream. She calls for the lutenist Peter Claire to help cure him but Claire leaves to join Christian's chamber orchestra, where he falls in love with Kirsten's only friend.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Royal Physician's Visit by Per Olov Enquist (rrmmff2000)
    rrmmff2000: Covers another earlier period of Danish royal history, complete with its own machinations and intrigues.
  2. 00
    The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier (SHBR123)

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» See also 228 mentions

English (28)  French (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Three stars for plot and four for writing. The problem with this kind of historical fiction is that the fictional characters should be as interesting as the historical ones, and Peter and Emilia just... aren't. They're cute, I guess, but not very bright. Their whole star-crossed lovers story in the second and third acts could have been resolved by Emilia just sending a frickin' letter: "Dear Peter, do you still love me? Please reply." BOOM. DONE.

On the other hand, I did enjoy Tremain's portrayal of Christian IV, and Kirsten Munk is one of the most detestable yet entertaining characters I have ever read about. ( )
  doryfish | Jul 31, 2019 |
Beautiful, subtle historical novel. The period is evoked through character and plot, not description. The kind of novel that gets better and better the more I think about it. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
Rose Tremain's 'Music and Silence' is an intertwining set of tales located in Denmark in 1629-1630 (with minor excursions to Harwich on the east coast of England) and featuring Peter Claire, a lute player newly attached to King Christian IV's Royal Orchestra. Claire is drawn into the lives of the royal entourage: King Christian himself, torn between his passions and his desire (and inability) to do his duty by the kingdom he rules; Kirsten, the King's estranged wife and all-round bad egg; and, Emilia, Kirsten's innocent-ish maid.

The narrative is structured as fairy-tale, based around journeys, innocence and worldliness, loves lost and found, trials and redemption, but with more subtle insights into the workings of the human heart. This is a lovely book with memorable characters; none more so than Kirsten, who I found myself rooting for more and more as the book progresses. She's not bad, she's just written that way.

Like many fairy tales there is an abrupt and 'they lived happily ever after' ending that I found shocking and short-changed by at first. With reflection I began to see this as a more ambiguous ending, where lives are not always neatly squared off and are sometimes left hanging and uncertain.

Given the title and occupation of the main character, there is very little music in this book. ( )
  pierthinker | Oct 29, 2017 |
Historical fiction based on real people’s lives, interwoven with fable and magical realism, this is a tale told from multiple points of view and is set in 1629-1630. It starts with the arrival of fictional lutenist (lute player) coming to take the place of Dowland a former lutenist there who is a historical person, in the court of Christian IV of Denmark. Perhaps Peter is the central character, perhaps not; there is certainly plenty space devoted to other people and events; you’ll have to read it to see if you agree with that assertion. While there are a few characters to root for, there are a few you love to hate, as well. During this year Peter Claire works in challenging conditions with his fellow musicians, falls in love with Emilia, who has taken this job to escape her egregious step-mother to work for the equally egregious Kirsten Munk, adulterous wife of King, who is vain, manipulative, unloving and cruel. King Christian, who has loved Kirsten blindly since they have met ignores so many obvious signs, is struggling with abysmal finances and trying to keep his kingdom sound, haunted by things in his past, and a bit loonie, although he isn’t alone in this. Emilia’s family is caught in deep dysfunction at the hands of Magdalena, her stepmother, and Emilia’s youngest brother is pining for her. Peter and Emilia share one trait; they are both able to help soothe and comfort their overseers, the king and the queen consort respectively.

On the one hand, the writing is quite good. This book works better in longer reading stints, and not so well in stolen five to fifteen minute reading breaks. The characters are well drawn for the most part, and yet many times it’s easy to remain somewhat detached from some of the characters you are actually rooting for. I’m not one for interweaving superstition and magical realism into historical fiction, an there is at least one thing that happens that people back then thought happened that has been proven not so. ( )
  Karin7 | Apr 11, 2016 |
Music and Silence is a historical novel, set in 1629-1630 in Denmark at the court of King Christian IV - who is depressingly short on money and spends much of his time trying to come up with get-rich-quick schemes that tend to go horribly wrong. He also has nightmares and general hang-ups from his youth and requires the constant presence of his musicians - who he keeps pent-up in a freezing wine cellar that they might pipe seemingly magical music into his throne room unseen. His new favorite is Peter Claire, the golden blond English lutenist "angel", who reminds him of his boyhood friend. We also follow Christian's sex-crazed selfish wife Kirsten and her infidelities, her lady-in-waiting Emilia (who catches Peter's eye), Emilia's family back in Jutland who is dealing with a similarly sexually manipulative stepmother and her odd (magical plot moppet) little brother Marcus who can imagine himself into the being of animals (or something). Occasionally we also glimpse Peter's former lover, an Italian lady married to a music-obsessed Irish count, King Christian's scheming mother, Kirsten's scheming mother, King Charles I of England and the fates of the villagers near the failed silver mine.

In short, true to its title, Tremain weaves different strains of story to create a whole meditation on insanity, power struggles, happiness and selfishness and gender politics. And I just didn't like it. I didn't care for any of the characters who all seemed painfully self-centered and uncaring of their actions' effects on others - unless they were reveling in the pain they caused. I found the blatant sexual manipulations by both Kirsten and Magdalena incredibly distasteful, and neither of them showed much in terms of redeeming qualities. And the women's use of sex as a tool was echoed by men's casual contemplations of rape as an imposition of their rightful power and violence (sexual or otherwise) as an attempt to subvert and take back the power the women gained through sex.

The only stories I actually enjoyed reading were Charlotte's (for the most part) and Francesca's (after the end of her husband's crazed violence). But even in each of these storylines were warnings of the dangers a woman faced if she bowed to the societally accepted role of wife and mother (even for love) - as she becomes completely dependent on him and his continued goodwill.

So I started off the year with a literary melancholy contemplation of power dynamics, the role of women, the nature of love and madness. And I am now firmly convinced that it is time to return to my 'happy' books as my forays into the literary world always seem to leave me unsettled and irritated.

More posted at A Hoyden's Look at Literature. ( )
  Caramellunacy | Jan 18, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rose Tremainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Agutter, JennyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For my daughter, Eleanor

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In the freezing cellars of the palace, musicians play unseen for the haunted, cash-strapped Christian IV of Denmark. Meanwhile, his beautiful but petulant consort, Kirsten, plays out wild fantasies with her lover. In a stately home in Ireland, Countess O'Fingal mourns her husband's insane pursuit of a tune heard in a dream. She calls for the lutenist Peter Claire to help cure him but Claire leaves to join Christian's chamber orchestra, where he falls in love with Kirsten's only friend.

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Reading *Music & Silence* is like eating a meal expertly crafted from the freshest produce: rich, satisfying, deceptively simple, and completely nourishing.
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