Any time an author sits down to write a novel involving real historical characters as part of the story, the questions come fast and furious. And they are all legitimate. After all, if a reader is investing time (and money) in a story they want, rightly, to know how much is real and how much is fiction.
I wrote \”Musick for the King\” which was published this April. And, while the book has been well-received, the questions flooded in.
Here are just some of the questions and my answers
Q&A with the author
Q. Who is this book written for?
A. Musick for the King is for readers who love cracking good stories. It is for those who love historical novels, thrillers, intrigue, inspirational stories, novels about famous people, people who love music and reading about music, fans of classical music, fans of composers, fans of Handel and fans of Messiah.
Q. Why did you write this book?
A. I was intrigued by the incredible back story of this magnificent piece of music. I have attended many performances of the work but had no idea of the way Handel fell from the top of his profession to the bottom and then struggled his way back up with. Then, I learned about the story of his lead singer, Susannah Cibber, which seemed to mirror Handel’s own—falling from the top of her career to the bottom, then struggling back up. It was a story that cried out to be told!
Q. How much of this story is real?
A. About 90 per cent! The story of George Frederik Handel and his struggles to survive his depression and failures is real. The story of how he came to receive the libretto (words) of the oratorio, the fact that he took only 24 days to compose the music, the fact that he spent a winter in Dublin performing concerts and debuting Messiah, is all real. The battle to debut Messiah in London against fierce opposition is also real. The peripheral characters who sought to ruin him and the efforts they made to do so, are fictional. But even then, they too represent reality and truth.
Q. Who actually wrote the oratorio Messiah?
A. Handel wrote the music for a libretto (text) put together by a man named Charles Jennens. The entire libretto is merely an arrangement of biblical verses that Jennens wove into the story of God’s relationship and redemption of mankind.
Q. Did Handel really produce the music in 24 days?
A. Absolutely! Hard as it is to conceive, he produced the whole composition in that time. He ate little and slept little while composing it.
Q. Is it true that the author of Gulliver’s Travels tried to stop the debut of Messiah?
A. Yes. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s author, was an Anglo-Irish clergyman, poet, writer and social critic. He was also the Dean (head) of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The church is the Cathedral for the Church of Ireland (Anglican). Handel had arranged to use the Cathedral choir members along with those from Christ Church Cathedral (just a few blocks away and the Anglican Cathedral for the city of Dublin). Swift, who was ill and suffering dementia at the time (he died less than a year later) changed his mind and refused permission for the choir to participate. Without singers, the oratorio was finished. Fortunately, Swift was persuaded to change his mind again and the singers were allowed to perform.
Q. Who was Handel’s lead singer and what was her story?
A. Susannah Cibber was an actress-singer who was the pop star of her day. She was the 18th-century version of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Celine Dion together. She wowed her audiences as she performed in London’s popular operas of that day. She had the West End in the palm of her hand. A contemporary said that while others sang for the ear, Susannah sang to the heart. She could move people. She was married to a brute who physically, verbally, mentally, financially and sexually. She left him for a man with whom she had an affair. Her husband Theo sued for divorce and had her charged with adultery. The resulting court case was a very public scandal, covered every day by the newspapers of that time. At the end, while she was indeed found guilty, the court showed its scorn and disgust with Theo by granting him a pittance of five pounds as opposed to the hundreds he demanded. But Susannah’s career seemed to be destroyed. She too was at the bottom. And she too strove to resurrect her career.
Q. What does this Musick for the King say to 21st-century readers?
A. I think it is a story of determination overcoming dire circumstances. As we face the Covid 19 crisis today, it shows us that even when things seem bleak, even when we are isolated, and even when we feel depressed, we can overcome. Through determination and just plain doggedness, we can meet the challenge head-on and even in our own small way, achieve great success. It is a reminder to us all, to never give up.