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A reader's guide to Music And Silence

Updated Thursday, 1st March 2007

An imaginative tale of 17th Century Europe inspired by the real-life fairy tale spectacle of Frederiksborg.

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When Rose Tremain visited Denmark in 1991 her imagination was fired at the sight of Frederiksborg, the 'fairy-tale' castle of the seventeenth-century King Christian IV.

She learned that his Royal Orchestra had been obliged to perform in a freezing wine cellar, whilst their sublime music rose up to soothe the troubled monarch.

The novel is set in 1629, at a particularly low point in the King’s fortunes. An English lutenist, Peter Claire, joins the Orchestra. Tremain creates a host of memorable characters, the most notable being Christian’s vain and avaricious consort Kirsten Munk - the author’s personal favourite, although mine is actually poor Bror Brorson!

Frederiksborg [Image: Suner Keller under CC-BY-NC-SA licence]

Music and Silence is an example of 'faction', i.e. it blends fact and fiction. Tremain has described it as an orchestral work, regarding herself as the conductor of a symphony, and she evokes a magical atmosphere.

There are numerous striking oppositions, for example between music and silence; light and darkness; order and chaos; hope and despair; beauty and ugliness; loyalty and betrayal; love and loss.

My original impression was that the text was meticulously planned in minute detail, and structured with intricate care; however, in a radio interview Tremain revealed that this was not the case.

Apparently the writing swept her along, and she did not have a specific denouement in mind.

She has said that there is 'a plateau of sanity' at the end, but the story seems to have left itself open to either a happy or a sad conclusion.


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