Reading a description of music is hardly ever as good as hearing it in person, but Kate Noble's retelling of the premiere night of Beethoven's Ninth had me holding my breath. I felt I could hear it in my head, exploding forth from my skull and soaring into the heavens, and I wanted nothing more than to be there to witness such a historical performance (first thing I'll be doing with a time machine, thank you very much!). I don't think I've ever read anything as moving or heartbreaking as her description of Beethoven coming out from the audience to conduct the music only he could hear.
I loved this book, and not just for the way you could sense such a respect and passion for music in the writing -- the romance was pretty good too. I don't mean to damn the other part of the book with faint praise (interesting that for me, the romance forms the 'other' part of the book), but the atmosphere of nearly constant background piano music makes this book so much more enchanting to me, and that works out to the benefit of all the other parts.
This is the story of Bridget Forrester, middle sister to the apparently most beautiful girl ever and piano genius sorely afflicted with stage fright. She receives a letter that changes her life (also a tree falls on her house) and ends up travelling to Venice to seek out the famous composer Carpenini, but it is his friend the dependable Mr. Oliver Merrick who she ends up falling in love with. Along the way, there are deliciously Italian theatrics, high-stakes piano competitions, and delightful strolls through Venice, not to mention a memorable trip to Vienna.
Bridget and Oliver seem to be one of those solid couples in romance that you can truly see working out in real life. I liked that there was no real tension with them -- it's rare to find such easygoing relationships in the genre that you can just settle into, like an old comfortable armchair.
Having had terrible stage fright and a tendency to speed up my tempo myself, I could relate completely with Bridget's performance anxieties, and reading about her overcoming them was vicariously satisfying (though I honestly doubt falling in love would wipe away my own performance faults). The development of her character was one of the best things about this book -- it's rare to see a heroine work as hard as she must have over the course of the story.
I didn't even think twice about giving this book five stars. If you love music, if you love characters that actually get things done through hard work and determination, if you love Venice and its own particular romance, you'll love this.