“It was the parlor and music room, filled with sun. She had never seen so much sun, never in Vienna. It came through the windows and sparked the dust on the ceramic shepherdesses on the mantelpiece. Even the big, heavy flowers in their vases seem to strain again for sun and belie their state of suspended dying. She caught herself at the doorway, remembering her thinness, her ashen skin, her mussed hair, the peacocks. She could not recall when last she had washed. The room billowed with music and sunlight. She could almost lean against it.//Mozart glanced at her with a calm smile, as if she were a rare and nocturnal animal he had coaxed to the edge of a meadow. He seemed as if in a meditation, as one deeply caught up, in this music which he did not write down, or read from, but tossed into the air like unstrung beads…” Vivien Shotwell, VIENNA NOCTURNE
In the tradition of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone comes a sweeping historical love story and a portrait of an age. Vienna Nocturne is a deeply moving debut novel that brings to life two extraordinary figures—a thirty-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a young English soprano, Anna Storace, who was his muse—in prose as spirited, timeless, and touching as Mozart’s greatest compositions.
In late-eighteenth-century London, a young girl takes her first singing lessons with a mysterious castrato in exile. Her life is forever changed. Having learned everything he can teach her, Anna leaves behind all the security and familiarity of home and journeys to Naples and Venice to struggle and triumph in Italy’s greatest opera houses. Only sixteen, she finds herself in an intoxicating world of theaters, nobility, and vice, overwhelmed by her newfound freedom and fame. Her first bitter experience of love and heartbreak inevitably follows.
Within a few years, Anna is invited to sing in Vienna, the City of Music, by the emperor himself. There, in a teasing game of theft and play, Anna first meets Mozart, a young virtuoso pianist and striving, prodigiously talented composer. They are matched in intellect and talent, and an immediate and undeniable charge occurs between the two, despite both being married to others.
As her star rises in Vienna and her personal life deteriorates, Anna experiences an ultimate crisis. During this trying time, her only light is Mozart: his energy, his determination for her, and his art. She, in turn, becomes his hope and inspiration, and his joy, as he writes for her some of his most exquisite and enduring arias—music that will live on as his masterworks.
Rich in historical detail and beautifully wrought by Vivien Shotwell, an author who is herself an opera singer, Vienna Nocturne is a dramatic tour de force of a woman’s struggle to find love and fame in an eighteenth-century world that controls and limits her at every turn.
Smitten from the first chapters, I consumed VIENNA NOCTURNE over three consecutive nights in great, greedy gulps. Anna Storace is a charming, beguiling, and flawed protagonist. Her part in every scene commands the attention the woman herself must have earned on the great stages of Venice, Vienna, and London. Even in her darkest times, Anna is a light because of the vibrant intensity of her spirit, talent, and passion.
In addition to a highly readable story, the writing, itself, is worthy of note–especially descriptions of music. The fact that each chapter is titled is an unexpected pleasure, and one I don’t often see. It is as if each section is a little world unto itself–a small scene in a grand opera–and it is a pleasure to seek the meaning in the titles, deepening the themes of the novel with their inclusion.
Fans of historical fiction will adore the tragic and beautiful VIENNA NOCTURNE. Vivien Shotwell is a debut novelist of enormous talent, and I eagerly look forward to her next book.