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.