A Woman of Note
Carol M. Cram follows her excellent debut, The Towers of Tuscany, with this outstanding novel, A Woman of Note, which tells the story of Isabette Grüber, a concert pianist in 1820s Vienna. Isabette dreams of becoming a composer at a time when women composers were almost unheard of. Her father is dead, and her older sister, also a talented pianist, is in an asylum. Her mother is cold toward her, and her manager lusts after her. She meets an American singer, Amelia Mason, and becomes her accompanist, but she is not content with just that. Meanwhile, the charming Amelia has secrets of her own. Isabette meets, and loves, an aspiring composer, Josef Hauser, who recognizes her talent but doesn’t fully appreciate her as a woman. Hauser’s compositions are not very good, and Isabette decides to improve on them, while giving Hauser all the credit. Later, she has her own compositions published under a male pseudonym. They are well-received, but no one knows they are hers. Will she ever gain the recognition she deserves?
Cram’s writing is so vivid, you can hear the music in your head as you read. She paints an amazing portrait of a woman who desires to succeed in a field that was closed to women, with a few courageous exceptions, at the time. Also, I found it refreshing to read about a heroine who isn’t beautiful. The musical scene in Vienna comes to life in brilliant detail, and the famous figures who make appearances include Schubert, Chopin, Berlioz, Liszt, and Clara Wieck, later Clara Schumann, who was one of the inspirations for the fictional Isabette. Cram also provides a list of the compositions mentioned in the book. A Woman of Note is one of the best historical novels I’ve read all year.