Today the featured author is Jessica Duchen and delighted to welcome her to the Cafe and Bookstore. Ghost Variations is her latest release in September 2016 and is the strangest detective story in the history of music – inspired by a true incident.
A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.
1933. Dabbling in the fashionable “Glass Game” – a Ouija board – the famous Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, one-time muse to composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Elgar, encounters a startling dilemma. A message arrives ostensibly from the spirit of the composer Robert Schumann, begging her to find and perform his long-suppressed violin concerto.
She tries to ignore it, wanting to concentrate instead on charity concerts. But against the background of the 1930s depression in London and the rise of the Nazis in Germany, a struggle ensues as the “spirit messengers” do not want her to forget.
The concerto turns out to be real, embargoed by Schumann’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration: it was his last full-scale work, written just before he suffered a nervous breakdown after which he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It shares a theme with his Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) for piano, a melody he believed had been dictated to him by the spirits of composers beyond the grave.
As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, where the manuscript is held, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the concerto. When the Third Reich’s administration decides to unearth the work for reasons of its own, a race to perform it begins.
Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess, and a young music publisher who falls in love with her – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.
In the ensuing psychodrama, the heroine, the concerto and the pre-war world stand on the brink, reaching together for one more chance of glory.
The most recent review for the book.
Ghost Variations is created from real people and true events which occurred during their lives; history dramatised into a rich and enchanting narrative.
Jelly d’Arányi, the central character, is a renowned Hungarian violinist, living in 1930s London with her sister, Adila and her family. Jelly has been the muse for several famous composers and is dedicated to her music, to the exclusion of her personal life, especially since she lost the man she loved at the Battle of the Somme during WWI. The sisters have lived in London since Jelly was sixteen and now as she approaches her fortieth birthday, Jelly is aware she is (unfairly) considered past her prime as a musician.
Adila’s close friend, Baron Erik Palmstierna, is involved in aspects of psychic research and spiritualism, and often play what they call ‘the glass game’, a form of the Ouija board. It was during one of these sessions, with Adila, Jelly (against her better judgement) and her assistant, Anna, that a message came through about a lost violin concerto by Robert Schumann.
This is an extraordinary and vividly written story when, as the author says, the truth is stranger than fiction. That the concerto should come to light in such a fashion is incredible. Jelly is finding the changes, within herself and the distant rumblings in Europe, difficult to come to terms with. How can there be another war, and so soon? Finding the concerto becomes Jelly’s quest and her lifeline.
Jelly is a very sympathetic and engaging character, not without flaws, but warm-hearted and genuine. Her kindness is shown in her behaviour toward Anna and the free cathedral concerts she performed to allow music and pleasure into the lives of those less fortunate. Jessica Duchen brings the characters to life and captures the atmosphere of the era perfectly. I like the realistic way Jelly’s life as a touring musician is portrayed and her intense enthusiasm for her craft despite the hardships.
The story is told mostly from Jelly’s perspective in the third person, with several segments from Ulli Schultheiss, a music publisher from Germany (one of the few fictional characters) who falls under Jelly’s spell during his stay in London. Persuaded to help in the liberation of the concerto, Ulli returns to Germany only to be met with a wall of bureaucracy, followed by interference by the Third Reich who wish to use the manuscript for their own purposes.
There are several subjects in this intriguing story which give pause for thought, not least the restrictions placed on women; the choice between career or family and the fact women were not allowed to attend certain of the better institutes of learning. The impending Nazi threat and the resulting fascism and growing prejudice against Jews is represented in all its horror. At its heart a touching, sensitively told story creating a wonderful read.
I chose to read and review Ghost Variations for Rosie Amber’s book review team, based on a digital copy from the author.
Read all the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Variations-Strangest-Detective-Story-ebook/dp/B01LW6HZV6
Also by Jessica Duchen.
Read all the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Duchen/e/B001HCXXL
About Jessica Duchen
Jessica is a versatile author with a musical bias. Her output includes novels, biographies, plays, words&music projects, poetry for musical setting, music journalism and more. Born in London, she studied music at Cambridge and piano with Joan Havill.
Her novels often focus on the cross-currents between family generations, with music a recurring theme. The latest, GHOST VARIATIONS, is “the strangest detective story in music”, based on the true story of the bizarre rediscovery, and Nazi propaganda conscription, of Schumann’s long-suppressed violin concerto.
Jessica’s biographies of the composers Gabriel Fauré and Erich Wolfgang Korngold for Phaidon’s 20th Century Composers series have met with wide acclaim. Her writing has appeared in in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times, as well as BBC Music Magazine and Opera News, among other publications. Her music blog “JDCMB”, http://jessicamusic.blogspot.com, has attracted more than 2m readers.
She is now writing an opera libretto, SILVER BIRCH, for the composer Roxanna Panufnik – a commission for Garsington Opera 2017. Her play A WALK THROUGH THE END OF TIME often pops up at music festivals to introduce Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and has been performed by actor teams including Harriet Walter & Henry Goodman and Janet Suzman & Michael Pennington.
Jessica lives in London with her violinist husband and two big fluffy cats. She loves long walks, cooking, ballet, theatre and scouring second-hand bookshops for out-of-print musical gems. Special passions include Russian literature and Nordic Noir.
Connect to Jessica on her website and social media.
Facebook (author page): https://www.facebook.com/jessicawordsmusic/ and book page https://www.facebook.com/ghostvariations/
Thank you for dropping in and please do help spread the news about Ghost Variations far and wide. Thank you Sally.
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