A Woman of Note

In this meticulously researched novel, the music of Beethoven, Chopin, and Schubert provides the lush score for a story that catapults readers into the musical salons of Vienna and Paris during the time of the great Romantic composers. As a woman and a composer, Isabette must invent and then follow her own path to becoming A Woman of Note.

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Isabette Grüber has a gift to share with the world. An accomplished pianist, she longs to compose music during an age when many of the world’s best loved composers are developing their art. She meets and loves two very different people—strong-willed Amelia, an American singer of rare talent with a secret even she does not understand, and Josef Hauser, an ambitious but mediocre composer eager to make his mark in music-obsessed Vienna. Isabette struggles with a manager who sees her as his ticket to more than just money, a mother who resents her, and a sister who succumbs to madness. Through it all, Isabette discovers that the only thing that never lets her down is music in her journey to catch and hold on to her passions in the face of sometimes insurmountable odds.

Winner of Best in Category for the Goethe Award for Best Historical Fiction Post-1750 and designated Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society.

Scroll down to check out my Author Notes, Discussion Questions for a book group, an information about the musical inspirations for the novel. If you have questions about A Woman of Note, I'm always happy to chat! Just Contact Me.

 

How to Purchase A Woman of Note

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Author Notes

The first half of the nineteenth century was a time of unparalleled development in the history of Western music. Many of today’s best-loved classics—from Beethoven’s symphonies to Chopin’s heartrending nocturnes—were composed in the years between 1800 and 1850. A music lover would be hard-pressed to find any contemporary symphony orchestra that did not include a significant number of pieces from this era in their yearly programs.

But how often do these programs include music composed by women? The short answer is: very rarely. And yet a quick Internet search for women composers in the nineteenth century yields a surprising number of results. Women played an integral role in the development of Western classical music—as performers, as critics, as salon hostesses, and yes, as composers. Their stories deserve to be told.

The lives of three women composers influenced me as I wrote A Woman of Note: Clara Schumann (née Wieck), Fanny Mendelssohn, and Louise Farrenc.

Clara Schumann is often remembered primarily as the wife of composer Robert Schumann. However, in her time, Clara was as well known as Liszt and Chopin for her formidable skills as a concert pianist—and she was more well known  then her husband, Robert. A mother of seven children, Clara’s successful career on the concert stages of Europe lasted for several decades. In recent years, her wonderful compositions are once again enchanting audiences. Her hauntingly beautiful Trois Romances was the inspiration for the romances composed by Isabette.

Fanny Mendelssohn, the elder sister of her more famous brother, Felix, received the same musical training as her brother and was considered equally talented. As a woman from an upper-class family in Berlin, Fanny was not permitted to pursue a professional career in music. However, Fanny was at the center of a very musical circle and composed prolifically. She also advised her brother about his compositions.

Louise Farrenc came from a distinguished family of Parisian artists who encouraged her musical talents. She married a music publisher in 1821 and resumed a concert career in Paris in the 1830s. She was also a highly praised composer, and became the first and only woman appointed as a professor of music at the Paris Conservatory. Madame Farrenc makes a cameo appearance in A Woman of Note.

A Woman of Note is a work of fiction. Isabette Grüber never existed, and all her encounters with real people—Schubert, Berlioz, Chopin, and Louise Farrenc—are imaginary. Isabette Grüber’s story is the story of a serious young woman who cares passionately about music. Her story is  the story of all creative people who strive to share their artistic  expressions with the world.

Shown below are pictures I took while in Vienna researching the novel. Far left is a piano typical of the period when the novel takes place. In the middle is me in front of the apartment building in which Beethoven had one of his many homes. The far right is a picture of the Narrenturm--the first insane asylum built in Europe in the late 18th Century and the scene of some pivotal moments in A Woman of Note.

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Discussion Questions

Here is a selection of questions you can use to facilitate discussions between members of your book club. If you have ideas for additional questions, please contact me.
  1. What is the nature of Isabette’s journey to becoming a “woman of note”? Consider the choices she makes in the novel. How does she grow and change?
  2. What motivates Amelia—is she just self-centered, or does she have redeeming qualities? How does she grow and change?
  3. Is Josef a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
  4. Why is Frau Grüber so cold to Isabette? Consider the challenges she has faced in her life—coping with an insane husband and daughter, enduring five pregnancies with only two surviving children, and battling constant financial instability. Is her attitude a choice or an inevitable result of her difficulties?
  5. Why is Isabette prepared to give up everything for music? Or is she?
  6. What role do you think Daniel might play in Isabette’s life when she gets to America? Do you think they will marry? Why or why not?
  7. What role does Johanna play in Isabette’s growth as a woman and a musician?
  8. What motivates Frau Mason? Why does she not have Amelia sent to an asylum after she catches her with Yvette?
  9. What does the novel show about the position of women musicians during the first half of the nineteenth century?
  10. What does the novel suggest about the value and function of music in a society?
  11. Dozens of women composed music in the nineteenth century, but most people have heard of only two—Clara Schumann (born Clara Wieck), the wife of Robert Schumann; and Fanny Mendelssohn, the older sister of Felix Mendelssohn. Both women were accomplished musicians and composers. Research the stories of Clara and Fanny to determine the challenges they faced in bringing their music to the world.
  12. Many composers are mentioned in the novel, including Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, and Berlioz. Some, like Schubert, Clara Wieck (Schumann), and Berlioz, make cameo appearances. Find examples of their music, particularly the compositions mentioned in the novel, and imagine how Isabette might have felt when she heard them.

Musical Inspirations

A Woman of Note includes references to the following compositions by composers of the period.

  • Beethoven – Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3
  • Beethoven – Sonata No. 8 in C Minor (called the Pathétique), Op. 13
  • Beethoven – Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor (called the The Moonlight Sonata), Op. 27, No. 2
  • Beethoven – Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major (called the Hammerklavier), Op. 106
  • Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 18
  • Chopin – Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2
  • Chopin – Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni
  • Schubert – Erlkönig, Op. 1
  • Schubert – Impromptu in G-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 3
  • Schubert – Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100