Playing By Heart
by Carmela Martino (Author)

Booktalk: Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as much as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, her position as “second sister” means she’ll likely be sent off to a convent instead. Ironically, Emilia’s pious older sister, Maria, would gladly become a nun. But Father won’t allow it—her brilliant language skills are too important to his quest for noble status.

Emilia’s only hope to avoid the convent is to prove that her musical talents are as indispensable as Maria’s skills. First, Emilia must earn the respect of the music tutor who has always disdained her, simply for being a girl. But before Emilia can carry out her plan, Mamma, her greatest supporter, dies in childbirth. In her sorrow, Emilia composes a heartrending sonata that causes the maestro to finally recognize her talent. He begins teaching her music theory alongside handsome violinist Antonio Bellini, the great-nephew of a wealthy marquis. The two begin as rivals, but making music together gradually melds their hearts.

When Antonio abruptly quits their lessons, Emilia assumes it’s because her family isn’t nobility. More determined than ever to help Father acquire a title, she dedicates a set of compositions to Archduchess Maria Teresa. The archduchess is so impressed that she helps Father become a count. Having finally won Father’s favor, Emilia expects she’ll now be betrothed to Antonio. But the repercussions of her family’s new status threaten not only her dreams, but her sister’s very life.

Snippet: As I recalled Father’s disappointment, the room started to spin. I gripped the wicker chair tighter and breathed in until the bodice stays dug into my ribs.

“Carlo’s behavior was terrible rude,” Mamma went on, “especially compared to Count Riccardi’s impeccable manners. He praised Emilia profusely, saying how he’d never heard anyone her age play so beautifully, boy or girl.”

I took another deep breath. Mamma didn’t understand. The count was just being polite.

Zia Delia’s shadow shifted. “What did you play, Emilia?”

Surprised by her question, I released my grip in the chair. “Three of Scarlatti’s sonatas and Rameau’s Suite in A Minor.”

Zia bowed her head. “Secular music is strictly forbidden within these walls.” Her voice held both sorrow and longing.

How could such beautiful music be forbidden? I shivered at the thought.

I stepped forward and pressed my hand against the iron grille. On the opposite side, Zia stood and raised her hand to mine. She pressed hard, as though she could make our fingers touch through the linen drape. But I only felt the cold iron bars.

Zia whispered, “Don’t let them do this to you.” Her shadow gestured behind her, towards the nuns’ quarters. “Don’t let them lock you away from the music.”

Copyright © 2017 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.