Shh! I Can’t Hear You! — Musical References in Historical Literature

Ardent Notes © Olga Olejnikova | Dreamstime.comWhat is the point of referencing music in historical romances?  After all, it’s not audible.  A reader can’t ask his or her book to hum a few bars… although future e-readers may yet surprise us with that ability. In addition, not everyone will be familiar with every composer or piece of music; why run the risk of boring the people who don’t care?

I do it because it sets a tone, literally.  Each decade of my life has its own unique musical trends (ie: 60s – The Beatles, 70s – Bee Gees, 80s – Huey Lewis & the News, and so on) that help me recall the era rather distinctly.

Cecile_chaminade courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Cécile Chaminade

The same could be said for people living in any other period of time.  What were folks listening to in the latter half of the 19th Century? They were listening to tried and true oldies (music written before 1850), as well as up-and-coming composers.   Among these late-Romantic era artists were newcomers such as Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907), Cécile Chaminade (1857 – 1944), and John Philip Sousa (1854 – 1932).  Also included in this era was Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900), famous for his operettas with W.S. Gilbert.

To readers in the 21st Century, these are old classical composers, but to the people in the 19th Century, they were new, fresh, and often trendy (au courant in the vernacular of the day?)

The nice thing about putting an excerpt on a blog is the ability to link to the referenced music.  Here is an excerpt from The Ice Captain’s Daughter (set in 1899) that mentions Morning Mood (1875) by Edvard Grieg.  Following that is one of my favorite YouTube videos featuring a performance of the piece by the Copenhagen Phil.  Enjoy! ~ S.G. Rogers


TICDFINAL“Jillian, I could tell there was some feeling between you and Mr. Logan at Idunn Court. His presence in town confirms it. Give him some encouragement, dear girl. You may have found your match,” Aunt Letty said.

A ray of hope broke through the doubts clouding Jillian’s brow, and she suddenly felt quite buoyant. Mrs. Bleak asked her to play the piano just as the men began to filter into the parlor. Logan came over to listen, a rapt expression on his face.

“That was simply marvelous,” he said after she finished.

“It sounds best with a full orchestra, but ’Morning Mood’ by a Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg is one of my favorite pieces. It depicts a sunrise,” Jillian said.

“Yes, I could hear that as you played. Well done.” Jillian rose from the piano to allow Mrs. Bleak to be seated next. As the party grew noisier, Logan was obliged to lean in toward Jillian to be heard. His breath as he spoke tickled her cheek and ear. A delicious shiver traveled down her spine.

“Will you walk with me a bit, Miss Roring? My cousin keeps a beautiful courtyard out back. There is a view of it from the balcony.”

Jillian’s stomach gave a little lift. Her assent was on her lips, but her eyes flicked a glance at Aunt Letty. An almost imperceptible nod from her aunt gave her permission to accompany Logan for a stroll.

“Mr. Logan, I believe I would enjoy some fresh air.”


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