Music & Silence

by Rose Tremain

Hardcover, 2000





New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LizzieD
Rose Tremain won the Whitbread for Music & Silence. It's easy to see why: what a lovely book! It's set in Denmark, 1629-'30, and follows King Christian IV in his efforts to increase Denmark's standing in Europe and to regain the love of his wife, Kirsten Munk. The protagonist is Peter Claire, an English lutenist, a man so handsome that Christian calls him his "angel." I suppose that the characters are all modern people, but it doesn't matter to me. They are real people, and I loved participating in their exercise of power and loss of power, and in the back-and-forth of music and silence in their lives. Tremain's writing is flawless, but not flashy or attention-drawing in the way that I typically enjoy. I have three more of her books yet to read, but I'll space them out for a time when I want something that I know I'll love.… (more)
LibraryThing member writestuff
King Christian IV was the King of both Denmark and Norway from 1588 until his death in 1648. Known as a reformer, King Christian IV implemented a series of domestic reforms, built new fortresses, and initiated a policy of overseas trade during his nearly 60 years as Monarch. The year 1629 ushered in a period of financial distress, and domestic unhappiness when the King discovered his second wife - Kirsten Munk - was sustaining an extramarital affair with a German officer. King Christian IV ultimately expelled Kirsten from Copenhagen to live out her days in Jutland - the western, continental part of Denmark which separates the North Sea from the Kattegat and Baltic Sea.

It is this part of King Christian IV’s reign (1629 - 1630) which serves as the backdrop to Rose Tremain’s Whitbread/Costa Award winning novel Music and Silence. This lush story is told from multiple points of view. The manipulative and seductive Kirsten Munk is introduced through her journal entries. Her self-centered musings create a character who is perhaps one of the most intriguing villains in literature…one who is blackly humorous, yet ultimately sad.

The reader also meets Peter Claire - an English lutenist who arrives in Denmark to become part of the royal orchestra - only to become smitten with Kirsten’s female companion Emilia. Throughout the narrative, Tremain intersperses the life of the King in his youth (and his friendship with Bror Brorson which haunts him), with his dreams, turmoils and fears of adulthood.

In Tremain’s competent hands, this historical novel becomes a symphony of romantic twists and turns, and a saga which encompasses all the excesses and political intrigue of royal life in seventeenth century Europe. Tremain explores such complex themes as order vs. chaos, love vs. hate, dreams vs. reality, and betrayal vs. loyalty - all through the metaphor of music and silence. The novel’s thematic elements are connected beautifully to setting, as when King Christian journeys to Norway to spearhead the development of a silver mine during the harsh winter months. He gazes at a waterfall - the Isfoss - which has frozen solid, and imagines the tiny crystals of ice forming in the roaring water.

'They acquire thickness, length and weight. The water is transparent clay, moulding them, layer upon layer, and as the layers accumulate, the roar of the river has become muffled. The human ear has to strain to hear it. And then, in the space of a single night, it falls silent.' -From Music and Silence, page 107-

It is the beauty of these kinds of images which transform Tremain’s novel from an historical piece of fiction into an extraordinary work of literature. Music and Silence is exceptionally wrought - a delicious tale which I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Is it possible for Rose Tremain to write a BAD book? From my experience so far, the answer would have to be "No." Music and Silence is absolutely exquisite. Tremain gets just right the mix of opulence and stringency, melancholy and joy, hope and despair that war with one another in the 17th century court of King Chistian of Denmark. All of her characters may not be likeable (the selfish Kristin, for one, and Tillson's second wife Mordalena, for another); but each one is unique and fascinating in his or her own right. What is Music and Silence about? The disappointment of love--and the perseverance of love. The power of art and the power of words. Family dynamics that can almost destroy its members yet somehow manages to pull them together. The influence of the past and the persistence of memory. And so much more. To give you any more details, if you haven't read this beautiful novel, would spoil the experience. Highly recommended!… (more)
LibraryThing member Tess22
A review on the cover claims that this story is 'the greatest thing to come out of Denmark since Hamlet'. I cannot agree with statement on account of LEGO (and Hans Christian Andersen) but it is a lovely and compelling book, following English lutist Peter Claire as he joins the Danish royal court and falls in love with a lady in waiting. Tremain knows how to build an atmosphere, and here evokes 17th century Denmark in vivid scenes, from the winter magic of a royal skating party to the freezing cellars where the orchestra plays.

One weak point is the central love story - two idealised characters in a love at first site scenario which is never sufficiently filled out. Far more involving is a minor subplot of Peter's sister and her fiancee - two seemingly ordinary people who see and bring out the extraordinary in each other. King Christian is also strongly drawn, a man disappointed by life and beginning to despair of rebuilding his kingdom. The real star though is the King's thoroughly disturbed and disturbing wife Kirsten, who is full of manipulation, seduction and despair, and is the keeper of a very amusing diary.
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LibraryThing member ElDoradoHills
Music & Silence has so many interesting characters and so many stories to tell, but I think what I really love about this book is how one thing, like music, can mean so much to so many people, but all for completely different reasons. -Sandra
LibraryThing member ascapola
I found this on the train and have had it in the house nearly 3 years, as it didn't look like my thing. But what a superb book, set in the Denmark of Christian IV, it vividly captures life in the C17th and is a book of contrasts with music and silence as a metaphor for other contrasts - dark and light, love and hate, ambition and acceptance.

Peter Claire, an English lutenist, finds himself in the role of 'angel' to the King and strives to find meaning and destiny whilst being loyal.
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LibraryThing member bfolds
I'm not sure I would have picked this book off the shelf if it hadn't been for the positive reviews on LT. Writing on this period of history can be -- for me -- tedious and difficult to take. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed this book. It's a much more than a beautiful love weaving the theme of music's impact on people's lives around the characters, the author tells a story that enlightens and provokes. It's funny and smart, and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to readers of historical fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member zenia
My favourite book. A novel of contrasts: love and hate, wealth and poverty, upstairs and downstairs, fidelity and promiscuity. Some very amusing dialogue.
LibraryThing member JudyCroome
“Music and Silence” by Rose Tremain was recommended to me as a superb example of a multi-voiced novel.

This is a long book (+450 pages), superbly written in a lyrical prose style. Set in 17th century Denmark, it’s well-researched and brilliantly conveys what life must have been like in that time. In addition, it cleverly hints at correlations between that corrupt world and today’s world.

From the historical King Christian IV of Denmark to the fictitious English lutenist, Peter Claire, the characters are richly drawn and interesting. Although there is no dramatic plot to follow -indeed, the story itself doesn’t even follow a linear path, but jumps around from character to character – there is a strong element of both love and discreet eroticism woven through the story. The sweep of human emotions keep one turning the pages as one is drawn into the complexity of not only the vast array of characters, but of human nature itself.

Tremain’s beautiful style is, mostly, easy to read, although at times she was long-winded. Her ability to change tenses effortlessly was impressive. Whether writing in first person present or third person past, Tremain kept the text so fluid the shifts were hardly noticeable. I did, however, find her addiction to the “:” as a punctuation mark distracting.

These are minor issues, though, because ultimately the fluid and haunting “Music and Silence” can be read again and again. Each reading will, I'm sure, produce some new gem to savour. I would highly recommend it when you have enough leisure time to linger over the pages.
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LibraryThing member barpurple
There's an atmosphere to this book that is interesting. You find yourself on an emotional roller coaster spinning through the near hysterics of Kristen to the gloomy depths of the King's money worries. The careful schemes of Kristen's mother and the Dowager Queen are laid out like a delicate aria. All in all it's a very good book that draws you into a richly described world.… (more)
LibraryThing member Ayling
Music and Silence takes you, dream-like, through 17th Century Denmark during the time of King Christian IV. I'm not sure how historically accurate this book is yet, I thought I would look it up after reading it.Tremain chose a rather unusual method of storytelling. It was written in little episodes from the perspectives of multiple characters that all played some small part, that reflected both music and silence - the real, the unreal, the magical the unmagical. I think it will take a little while to really sink in and think about the meaning. It tells a story of Peter Claire, a beautiful lutanist from England who comes to Denmark to be in the king's renowned orchestra - who play in the cellars of Rosenborg castle where music filters up through pipes into a room. The music can be heard though not seen.King Christian is a fascinating character, a nice man though rather obsessed by perfection and ideals - rather then what can actually happen in reality. His wife, Kirsten is vain, materialistic and adulterous. His life and health are in a turmoil and when Peter Claire arrives he makes him his 'angel'.Peter Claire is a peculiar man whom I do not feel you really get to know at all throughout. You seem to find out more about his sister and the other characters then you do him. He falls in love with the maid of Kirsten Munk and finds himself in the middle of a battle between the King and his wife. These different perspectives and different people you read about are like bubbles in time. You float through the narrative within these little bubbles, you float through the lives of these people and you occasionally pass them by only to float past them again.Tremain's style is lyrical, ethereal and delicate - gently guiding you through, tempting you onwards to read more. I found it a light read, one that I could pick up and put down again and relax to. I did not feel the need tor race through it but just to float along and enjoy it.It is not a historical saga which tells the life of King Christian IV from start to finish, it is only a short period in his life. I do not usually read novels about real people so this was an exception. I enjoyed it and would very much like to read Restoration by Tremain now.… (more)
LibraryThing member stevedore
I found this book was a real struggle - possibly because I didn't empathise with any of the characters. The detail was incredibly intricate and Tremain covers a lot of ground. The two central stories - of King Christian's twin struggles over his political and personal life, and the thwarted romance between Peter and Emilia - are interesting. However I some of the sub-plots added so much superfluous detail and background that I was getting distracted and confused at times about the main narrative. For instance I am not sure, at the end of the story, what the role of either the King's mother Sophia, or Peter's sister Charlotte play in contributing the main theme.… (more)
LibraryThing member voz
An exceptional, delicious saga that unfolds, twists and ponders on the lush tapestry that tells the story from various points of view. I don't usually fall for novels about European royals but Tremaine was able to flesh out characters in a way the fruits of historical research with the universals of the human condition.
LibraryThing member wonderperson
First class account of young musicians in the court of a king, contains one graphic account, but otherwise very good and very well written.
LibraryThing member maryreinert
Music & Silence brought to life the most memorable characters. King Christian IV of Denmark is an absolute ruler who commands his orchestra to play from the cellar, yet he is almost a slave to his Consort, Kirsten, who has to be one of the most selfish, petty, vulgar, yet humorous characters I have ever met in fiction. And one who I actually felt pity for at the end. Peter Claire, the talented and decent lutest for the King, holds the story together yet is not the focus. Emilia, Kristen's "general lady" truly has a good heart. Her stepmother, Magadelena, a big, baudy peasant woman has a sexual appetite that includes her stepsons. George Middleton, Peter's future brother-in-law is an overweight successful gentleman who is genuinely in love with Charlotte, a young naïve innocent who is lives a charmed life surrounded by people who love her. Sophie, the Dowager Queen, and Ellen Marsvin, Kirsten's mother, are survivors saved by cynicism. No one is perfect, no one is totally evil (well maybe Kirsten), no one totally wins and no one totally loses. The short chapters told from different viewpoints give a quality of different instruments playing in the orchestra, some are direct and bold while others merely provide the background. I particularly looked forward to reading Kristen's version "From her private papers." Besides great characters, Tremain does an excellent job of painting the cold and dampness of Denmark. Although a different time and place, a different writing style, and different characters, if you enjoyed "Crimson Petal and White" you will certainly enjoy "Music and Silence" - even more so.… (more)
LibraryThing member vguy
Wonderful poetic language, vivid scenes and characters, villains and heroes, sensual vivid images and even a happy ending. Plot slightly confusing , partly due to multiple narrators, AND a narrator proprement dit. Also some jumps in the story, and unconcluded lines ( what happened to the poor king? ) or did I miss something. But very enjoyable moment for moment, which is how I tend to take novels, especially in audio. Nicely recorded, including music! From "one click".… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This is Rose Tremain's eighth novel and is an entertaining tale that also exhibits a compelling psychological and moral density. It begins in 1629 as Peter Claire, a young English "lutenist" who’s been summoned to the court of King Christian IV, arrives in Denmark to become the newest member of the royal orchestra. Following this beginning Tremain presents a number of increasingly interlocking narratives (each keyed to a different character's consciousness), She explores a considerable range of human responses to, and involvements with, the overt expressiveness of ``music'' and the ``silence'' that pervades hearts and minds given to introversion and secrecy. Christian's embattled boyhood and sudden ascension to the throne is a sort of Hans Christian Andersen fable of a mind eagerly expanding, then possessively contracting as it dramatizes a hungry spirit's resolute perfectionism. The "confessions" of Christian's adulterous consort Kirsten vividly demonstrate her self-indulgence and subterfuge. And the parallel tale of the love between Peter Claire and Kirsten's favorite handmaiden, Emilia, who’s also been traumatized by a complex legacy of intrigue and lust—ironically echoes the royal drama. Tremain's deepening characterization of King Christian—both as an incarnation of acquisitiveness who believes in his own divine right, and a sensitive seeker of higher things—is masterly and, ultimately, very moving.… (more)
LibraryThing member pierthinker
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.
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LibraryThing member doryfish
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.
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LibraryThing member Karin7
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.
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