Few pieces of music can touch the soul like Handel’s Messiah. Making this composition into the centerpiece of a historical of historical novel is a task that only a masterful hand dare try. Barrie Doyle delivers a masterpiece of his own in “Musick for the King – A Historical Novel“. In it, we are transported into the life and times of George Frederik Handel, and are privy to his innermost thoughts, as he struggles against the opposition facing him in mid 18th century London.
Handel has become a pawn in the struggle between King George II and the King’s son Frederick, and it has brought Handel to near ruin. We enter into the parallel story of Susannah Cibber, a soprano whose reputation is in ruin because of a messy divorce from a cruel husband. But a libretto written by Handel’s friend Jennens, quite unlike anything written before, provides a chance at redemption, both financially and spiritually for both George and Susannah.
That actual writing of the entire of the oratorio took Handel only twenty four days. Quite fittingly then, “Musick for the King” covers the event in only six of its 207 pages. But what an incredible six pages! We enter Handel’s mind when the book, like the Messiah itself, reaches a crescendo during the writing of the Hallelujah chorus.
Awakened by the noise and fearing the worst, John hurried down the narrow dark back stairs from his loft room. He burst into the composing room just as Handel, laughing with excitement, with tears still streaming down his face, appeared in the entrance to the music room. He stopped when he saw his butler’s frightened expression.
“Nothing, my dear John. It is nothing.” A huge grin spread across his face. “Yes, it is everything.”
He was laughing, crying, and talking at such a pace that his Germanic accent broke through.
“Mein Gott, John. I did think that I saw all heaven in all its glory before me. And the great God himself!” He collapsed to his knees, shaking with ecstasy, hands and arms spread wide. “It was magnificent. The music is magnificent. I am a mere tool. I did not compose such music in all my left, yet my hands were driven by the music in my head. Ach, mein Gott! It is glorious!”
At the end of the chapter, I said to myself. “Mike, you have just experienced greatness. You have to read that chapter again to drink it all in a second time.”
Barrie Doyle is a masterful story teller. His three fictional novels, The Excaliber Parchment, The Lucifer Scroll, and the Prince Madoc Secret all fall into the category of “can’t put down”. Indeed, I read each of them in a single sitting. With “Musick for the King”, Doyle expertly weaves in a story that is as mesmerizing as his novels. Mystery and suspense run like a thread through the entire book. That the book is based on actual events makes it all the more powerful. The time and effort that he puts into researching the times and places of all his novels is self-evident.
Like the Messiah itself, Barrie Doyle has produced a work of art that gets my highest recommendation. I did not receive a promotional copy, but have purchased two copies to give to my music loving family. (I read my wife’s copy for the review!)
All of Barrie’s books are available at BarrieDoyle.com and can be signed on request.
14 thoughts on “Musick for the King – An Internet Monk Review”
Well they already do this:
So I am sure the Book of Trump is in works.
For those of you musically inclined, I present a very interesting arrangement of Hande’s Hallelujah Chorus:
I got more a sense of The Da Vinci Code as opposed to “This Present Darkness”. There is a theme of a secret group trying to rule the world, and while the 2nd book (as I remember) has a demonic aspect, it is much more about telling a good story.
As to the “Christian-ish” aspect, the main “positive” characters in his trilogy are Christian or seekers. At a couple point Doyle sounds a little forced in his presentation of the characters, but generally that doesn’t get in the way.
As to Musick for the King, I did have my antennae up for that aspect, as there was only one line that sounded more 20th Century Christian than 1740s Anglican. (I am the guy who almost always catches the fake quotes on Facebook, because the quote doesn’t match the period.)
–> “When great art appears, and it appears more so than it is conjured, the artist who created it is actually more so created by it.”
Makes me wonder about the creation of poor art, or art that only some appreciate but most don’t (like bad movies, or cult movies). I mean, some bad/poor art is just pumped out to earn a dollar, but I’d venture to guess that most artists/writers/musicians feel like they channeled SOMETHING that was outside of their own persona/ego. I know that’s the case with the books/stories I write.
This brought me to tears. Thank you.
How long will it be before we can experience this again?
That could be just Bandwagon Effect.
Describe a new work as “Just Like [Whatever’s Trendy Best Seller]”, even if you have to really stretch the analogy.
Even Star Trek, first pitched at a time when Westerns dominated TV, had to be pitched as “Wagon Train in Space”.
How do Doyle’s three thrillers hold up as Christian-ish fantasy? I enjoyed Steven Lawhead’s Arthurian series ( Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail), because they weren’t too preachy, and also Tim Powers’ books Declare and The Stress of Her Regard.
The blurb for Doyle’s books made them sound kind of This Present Darkness-y
I loved this:
“Handel bragged about the music but not about himself because he simply channeled the revelation of something that was from outside of his ego or persona. It was bigger and and far more impressive than he but he was given it to deliver and care for. Maybe somewhat akin, with much less labor pain, to the mystery of having given birth.”
to be invited to partake in the act of ‘creation’, especially the birth of an infant or the production of a beautiful object or piece of music . . . that is a mystery indeed. There are some moments when we transcend ourselves and something ‘comes through’ ( good word ‘channeled)
I have a cousin who is an artist in Northampton MA who says after completing one of her paintings, she feels drained of energy for days . . . ‘I couldn’t even finger-paint with children during that time’ . . . it was, as you have written, Chris, like giving birth. Do we pick up ‘inspiration’ from beyond ourselves? Or is this gift of sharing in the act of creation a part of our being ‘made in the image of God’? 🙂
Good comment, ChrisS.
Ha! That’s great! Funny.
This was memorable:
One of the many books I culled from my library ages ago was an anthology of apologetics. One chapter listed 37 (or so, don’t exactly remember) arguments for God’s existence, with a short accompanying proof. Literally the only thing about that book I remember is the last argument…
“ARGUMENT: There are the works of Johann Sebastian Bach; therefore, there is a God.
PROOF: You either get this one, or you don’t.”
When great art appears, and it appears more so than it is conjured, the artist who created it is actually more so created by it. The art creates the artist as much and probably more than the artist creates it. That is the ecstasy. Handel bragged about the music but not about himself because he simply channeled the revelation of something that was from outside of his ego or persona. It was bigger and and far more impressive than he but he was given it to deliver and care for. Maybe somewhat akin, with much less labor pain, to the mystery of having given birth.