A novel set predominantly inside the great opera houses of Europe, The Bells is written with great attention to music, performance, and sound. With this unique emphasis, Richard Harvell’s story of an underprivileged boy growing up in the Swiss Alps only to later become one of the greatest musicians in Vienna is best experienced through the theatrical narration of Paul Michael Garcia. Garcia’s performance further enhances the gravitas Harvell has achieved in The Bells, offering a vocal rendition that serves the novel’s acute understanding of early music history very well.
In The Bells, Harvell’s thoughtful investigation of 18th-century classical music explores its rich beauty, but it also does not shy away from the darker corners of the art. Born in an impoverished village cast away in the Swiss Alps, Moses Froben had endured considerable hardship in his youth. His gift of music came from his mother, a deaf-mute woman disbanded from society who spent her days ringing the bells of the church tower in the village. Her pregnancy caused both her and her unborn son great misfortune, but when young Moses washed up on the shores nearby St. Gall, a kind monk took him into the Abbey, where his gift of music was eventually discovered and nurtured. This nurturing did not come without further abuse, though, when the director of the boy’s choir betrayed the comfort Moses had found in the abbey by castrating the young boy in order to preserve his beautiful soprano voice (a horrific act that, though controversial, was alarmingly prevalent in this era).
When the act was discovered in the Abbey later when Moses’ voice and angelic appearance did not change, he was looked upon with both grave pity and mild disgust. He found himself a social outcast once again in his troubled life. Only the streets and theater houses in Vienna, where he traveled in search of acceptance and his long lost love, a young woman he had shared a brief yet emotionally passionate romance with in the Abbey, offered Moses a new opportunity to flourish in his extraordinary artistic talent.
The Bells, much like many of the great operas written in this era, is a tumultuous narrative that is as beautiful as it is horrifying. Garcia carves into its rich structure where music and sound are so important; I was able to experience Moses’ remarkable gift for myself through his narration. Suzanne Day
Dazzling, enchanting, and epic, The Bells is the confession of a thief, kidnapper, and unlikely lover - a boy with the voice of an angel whose exquisite sense of hearing becomes both his life's tragic curse and its greatest blessing.
Moses Froben was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps, the bastard son of a deaf-mute woman, banished to the church tower to ring the Loudest and Most Beautiful Bells Ever each day. His life is simple but content, until the day his father recognizes Moses' singular sense of hearing and its power to expose his sins. Cast into the world with only his ears to protect and guide him, Moses finds refuge in the choir of the historic Abbey of St. Gall and becomes its star singer, only to endure the horrifying act of castration, meant to preserve his angelic voice and turn him into a musico.
In a letter to his son, Moses recounts his humble birth in eighteenth-century Switzerland and his life as a novice monk, and he tells of the two noble friends - and a forbidden lover - whom he cherished during the chaotic years he spent in Mozart's Vienna as apprentice to the great Gaetano Guadagni. But in this letter he also reveals the astonishing secrets of his past and answers the question that has shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world-renowned musico, come to raise a son he could never have sired?
Recounting his birth in the 1700s in a belfry high in the Alps, to his appearance on Europe’s greatest stages, this epic novel is the story of the greatest ears on earth - from a deaf mother's cries, to the beating of a forbidden lover's heart, to the arias of Vienna's greatest opera house, and the deadly booming of the world's loudest, most glorious bells.
©2010 Richard Harvell (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Astonishing in its originality, epic in its scope, luminous in its richness, The Bells is a novel to be savoured page by glorious page.” (Cathy Marie Buchanan, New York Times bestselling author)
Rich story, beautifully written. I find it hard to believe this was a first novel for this author. He is an inspired writer, for certain.
Wonderful pairing with the narrator who did an exceptional job giving distinct personality to each character.
I heard the author interviewed on NPR and looked forward to a novel based on historical research which might illumine what the world of the castrati was like. Instead, this book is of the romantic genre and is often painfully anachronistic. There are few interesting sections dealing with the cross-cultural custom of male castration, but overall it's a bodice ripper with a eunuch doing the ripping.
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