Published by Lake Union Publishing on September 8, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Virtuoso pianist Isabette Grüber captivates audiences in the salons and concert halls of early nineteenth-century Vienna. Yet in a profession dominated by men, Isabette longs to compose and play her own music—a secret she keeps from both her lascivious manager and her resentful mother. She meets and loves Amelia Mason, a dazzling American singer with her own secrets, and Josef Hauser, an ambitious young composer. But even they cannot fully comprehend the depths of Isabette’s talent.
Her ambitions come with a price when Isabette embarks on a journey that delicately balances the line between duty and passion. Amid heartbreak and sacrifice, music remains her one constant. With cameos from classical music figures such as Chopin, Schubert, and Berlioz, A Woman of Note is an intricately crafted and fascinating tale about one woman’s struggle to find her soul’s song in a dissonant world.
I really wanted to like A WOMAN OF NOTE. Although I’m not into classical music, I do enjoy historical fiction about women artists of any type. I hoped this book would remind me of THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA by Susan Vreeland, or COLOR SONG by Victoria Strauss, as Isabette Grüber faces the same struggle: succeeding in a male-dominated world.
Isabette has minor success as a virtuoso pianist. Most of her life has been devoted to practice and playing; after her father’s death and sister’s commitment to an asylum, she’s the only one who can support herself and her mother. Her real dream is to compose and play her own music, but that’s an impossibility in 1820s Vienna. Over the course of the book, Isabette’s relationships with Amelia and Josef steer her life. Amelia is a singer from America, who widens Isabette’s world, showing her there’s more to life than practicing the piano. Josef is an aspiring composer, and when Isabette improves his compositions, she wonders if they could be partners in life and music.
My main complaint with A WOMAN OF NOTE is that, well, it’s very one note. Isabette is the only developed character. Josef is such a dummkopf — my eyes rolled every time he shows because he’s a jerk. Why does he believe he’s so superior? Because he’s a guy? I don’t know, because the author never told me. Josef in particular impacted my enjoyment of the book. Amelia’s quite selfish, often hiding information from Isabette if it suits her desires. Why? Isabette’s mother is understandably downtrodden by a difficult life, but why doesn’t she ever believe her daughter?
I also wish the book was just a little longer, so that we could see Isabette’s presumably happy ending. She’s unhappy and has a raw deal for so much of A WOMAN OF NOTE that it would have been nice to see more of her making her own choices.
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