Young Theresa is awakened on Christmas Eve by members of Haydn's orchestra in Vienna, who bring her father's murdered corpse back to the apartment. She begins an adventure to discover who murdered him and why, and to find her own fulfillment in music.
Susanne gives an overview of the book:
The night it all began, I dreamt that Papa returned from the concert with a new violin for me. I lifted it out of its wooden case, so excited to play it, but it slipped from my hands to the floor and smashed into splinters. I still remember how desperately sad I was, holding the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world—my own violin—and before I knew it I’d broken it beyond repair. My father’s dream face looked more sad than angry. I reached out to cling to him and ask his forgiveness, but he, too, slipped through my grasp, becoming a column of mist drawn out through my open window by the wind that banged the shutters against the house.
I woke up suddenly with my mouth open wide, the word “Papa!” in my throat. It took a moment before I realized that the knocking I heard was not the shutter from my dream, but someone at the door. A voice yelled “Machen-Sie auf! Open up!”
At first I was relieved. No treasured violin had been broken. Then I wondered who would make such a noise in the middle of the night. I pulled back the curtains around my bed, threw off the comforter, leapt up and ran in my bare feet to the door, dashing past my mother who had also been awakened but could only hobble slowly because she was very pregnant.
“Theresa Maria! Get away from there. You’ll be seen by God knows who in your night shift!”
I didn’t pause, not caring how I was dressed. When I reached the door I drew the bolt and yanked it open. I hoped it was Papa, knocking because he had forgotten his key. We had all stayed up late waiting for him to return from playing the violin at a concert in Prince Esterhazy’s winter palace, on the other side of Vienna. But he didn’t come, which wasn’t so very unusual on a Christmas eve when there would be much merrymaking after his work was done, so at last we went to bed. Mama had looked a bit worried, but I was certain Papa had simply gone drinking with his friends. The musicians would have received their annual bonuses from my godfather, Kapellmeister Haydn.
The next few moments were very confusing. Three men wearing cloaks with hoods drawn over their faces pushed into our apartment, struggling with a large, black sack between them. They laid the sack gently on the floor, and then one of them—I still can’t remember which—took a small dagger and split it open down its middle.
“Maybe you shouldn’t look,” said a voice I recognized as Heinrich’s. He spoke with a rich baritone that reminded me of the horn he played.
“No, they will have to see him,” said another of them, who I later realized was Jakob, the timpanist.
My mother stood next to me holding the lamp up high with one hand and clutching her shawl closed at her throat with the other. My little brother Tobias was still asleep, Greta, the cook, hadn’t stirred—nothing woke them. Mama and I were frozen to our spots like the icicles hanging from the eaves of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Just thinking about them made me shiver.
Or maybe I was shivering because of what the sack contained.
Even though I was several paces away and the light flickered in the wind that whooshed through the still open door, I could see that it was my father. I recognized his slender face with its high forehead, pronounced cheekbones and the tiny dent in his chin. But why wasn’t he moving? And why was his mouth so dark? I crept closer, fascinated and repelled at the same time, until I could see that the strange color was from the dried blood that had caked on his lips and frozen in a trail out of one corner of his mouth and down his cheek.
My mother had inched forward with me, her hand on my shoulder. I felt her grip loosening and I turned, catching hold of the oil lamp just as she crumbled into a heap on the floor. The men, who had stood around breathing heavily after their exertion sprang into action, two of them rushing over to help Mama. I don’t know what made me do it exactly then, but I threw up all over the boots of one of them, realizing as I did so that it was poor Heinrich, and noticing that his boots were covered with sandy mud.
Susanne Dunlap has published four works of historical fiction, two for adults (Emilie's Voice and Liszt's Kiss) and two for young adults (The Musician's Daughter and Anastasia's Secret). She is a graduate of Smith College with a PhD from...