Harpsichord Fantasy

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Harpsichord fantasy…
Well, in some cases, maybe not just harpsichord. It’s often said that the best fiction has its foundation in fact, art imitating life. Here are some recent novels which are not just a good read, but remarkable for their portrayal of the era, a glimpse into the craft of those working with musical instruments, or the importance of music in the world.

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Orchard, Sonia: the Virtuoso — a novel

Told from the perspective of a young male music student in post-WWII London who falls passionately in love with the Australian pianist Noël Mewton-Wood. All the greats are mingled in the story including Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears. Don’t miss the remarkable party scene at Raymond Russell’s with Noël thumping out some boogie on an original Ruckers harpsichord while the owner is “running about with burlap covers, frantically covering the remaining instruments.”

• Fourth Estate 2009   ISBN 978 0 7322 8807 5

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Moggach, Deborah: Tulip Fever

A tale woven in the middle era of the Ruckers dynasty of harpsichord makers, when speculation in tulip bulbs was rife—some rare varieties selling for the price of a dwelling in Amsterdam. Nicely printed, some editions with color plates of appropriate Old Masters sprinkled throughout. Released as a movie in 2017, with screenplay by the author with Tom Stoppard.

• Vintage 2000   ISBN 0 09 928885 0

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Chevalier, Tracy: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Now a motion picture inspired by the enigma of the original painting, a fascinating tale of a new 16 year old servant in the Vermeer household. Employed for the laundry and scullery, Griet finds favor with her master, and—much to the disgust of Vermeer’s seemingly always-pregnant wife—soon becomes entrusted with mixing his pigments.

• Plume 2005   ISBN 978 0 4522 8702 0

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Mason, Daniel: The Piano Tuner

Set in the 1880s, a strange request from the War Office finds a specialist tuner/technician of Erard pianos sent from his comfortable existence in London on an extraordinary (and well-paid) assignment to the farthest and wildest outpost of the British Empire: Up-country Burma.

• Picador 2004   ISBN 978 0 3304 9269 0

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Carhart, Thaddeus E: The Piano shop on the Left Bank — Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier

An American expat in Paris relates his rediscovery of the piano, after repeatedly passing a strange shop in his neighbourhood and being drawn into its web. Includes a remarkably picturesque description of the alcoholic Dutch piano tuner, and the amazing grand piano delivery duo struggling up the stairs.

• Random House 2001   ISBN 0 375 75862 3

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Patchett, Ann: Bel Canto: A novel

This book would make a great plot for an Opera, and will appear in that guise in the 2015/16 season of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Japanese businessman Mr Hosokawa has been enticed to attend a celebration of his birthday in an unnamed South American country only because the musical entertainment is being provided by his life-long idol, opera singer Roxanne Coss. He did not anticipate, though, that the high-powered multinational guest list would entice terrorists to invade the property and hold everyone hostage, although their main target the President was elsewhere, having skipped the party to watch his favorite soap opera on the television. Communication is difficult because of the many languages spoken: There is only music in common, and the sudden power and responsibility of Mr Hosokawa’s humble multilingual translator, Gen…

• Perennial 2002   ISBN 0 06 093441 7

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Cuneo, Anne [translated by Roland Glasser & Louise Rogers Lalaurie}: Tregian’s Ground: The Life and Sometimes Secret Adventures of Francis Tregian, Gentleman and Musician

A wonderfully-researched life’s journey through Renaissance Europe with Francis Tregian the Younger, compiler of the beloved Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

• And Other Stories 2015   ISBN 978 1 908276 54 4

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