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The Instrumentalist

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"The Instrumentalist" by Harriet Constable immerses readers in the glittering yet harsh world of 1704 Venice, where desperation and destitution contrast sharply with the city's splendor. At the Ospedale della Pietà, abandoned orphan girls like eight-year-old Anna Maria are posted through a tiny gap in the wall every day. Anna Maria is different, obsessive, and gifted, with a singular ambition to become Venice's greatest violinist and composer. Despite the odds stacked against her, she is determined to succeed, especially when the maestro selects her as his star pupil. However, as Anna Maria's talent shines brighter, tensions arise, threatening her dreams and her relationship with her mentor.

Constable's vivid descriptions bring the setting and characters to life, transporting readers to the vibrant world of 18th-century Venice. Anna Maria's passion for music is palpable, and her journey from orphaned girl to aspiring virtuoso is compelling. The novel effectively explores themes of ambition, talent, and the challenges faced by marginalized individuals striving for greatness in a society that often overlooks them. The dynamic between Anna Maria and her mentor adds depth to the narrative, as their relationship evolves amidst the backdrop of musical ambition and rivalry.

However, while "The Instrumentalist" offers a captivating premise and engaging characters, it occasionally falls short in pacing and character development. Some plot points feel rushed, and certain aspects of Anna Maria's growth and relationships could have been more fully explored. Additionally, the resolution of conflicts towards the end of the novel may leave some readers wanting more closure or development. Despite these minor flaws, "The Instrumentalist" is a solid three-star read that will appeal to fans of historical fiction and music-themed novels, offering an immersive journey into the world of a young prodigy chasing her dreams amidst the splendor and challenges of 18th-century Venice.

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I loved this book!
I have long been intrigued by synesthesia and the descriptions of how Anna Maria paints with her music were well written.

I make the link to Vivaldi until I read the authors note at the end. Much like the Masters in art, he used his students to ‘help’ his composing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy to review.

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I'm a recent reader of historical fiction, particularly those that give voices to female characters who were forced into silence or submission. This feels like an excellent example of the genre, and one I will be recommending to everyone. As with Maggie O'Farrell's 'The Marriage Portrait', this is the story a female figure being controlled by a dominating man and a celebration of art as a voice & means of communicating with a world that otherwise wants you shut away, A vivid and powerful story. Discovering this is a debut novel blew my mind, it's so beautifully written with such style and ease. Constable has a clear narrative voice, both lyrical and profound, and I can't wait to read what she does next!

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I wanted to like this more, but my suspension of disbelief was interrupted by Anna Maria’s mastery of the violin and her strong will from the start. In a way, I liked her for her single-mindedness, passion and agency, but I expected to see these gradually, in line with the context of the times.

The pacing was perfect, and this book can be devoured in one or two sittings.

Anna Maria’s story needed to be told and I appreciate that Constable had written this book so much. However, this was not my cup of the tea. I did not enjoy the writing style much, and the dialogue did not feel realistic to me.

Though, please pick up this book, learn about Anna Maria and Vivaldi, and Venice more, and along the way, I am sure many readers will engage with this story and enjoy it.

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Thank you to to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the ARC of this book. The depictions of Venice and the Synaesthesia drew me in straight away. The descriptions of the abandonment of babies and the hard life that they often lived were based on fact as was the musical career of the main character. I really enjoyed reading this book and am surprised to see a lot of poor reviews.

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The book flows like the music it portrays; the reading matching the pace of the music, the mind swirling through the colours and feeling the symphony of emotions soaring, dipping, floating. It makes the mind race as the brain works overtime to paint the scene in my head. I had to sometimes force myself to slow down, to savour the descriptions, construct the images in my mind with care and dwell on them before allowing them to leave and make room for the next. I had never thought of the music in technicolor like Anna Maria Della Pieta does.

The destitute mother wanted to drown the life out of herself and her baby. The baby was determined to live. Anna Maria Della Pieta is an orphan, put through the hole at the Pieta orphanage in Venice as a tiny baby and brought up by the nuns. Life is tough but they get a conventional and a musical education with the best performers being accepted into the orphanage’s orchestra. The figlie di coro is famous and the girls and women in it hugely talented. For the times it was actually quite forward thinking as the girls were independent and earned their own money. Anna Maria knows she is destined for greatness and she is tutored by none other than Antonio Vivaldi, who recognizes and nurtures her talent. But Anna is more than just a performer, she has ambition. She wants the world to remember her and for that she must become a maestro and she must compose and publish her own work. But women are not meant to shine, at least not too much.

True greatness tends to come with single minded determination, usually with a heavy dose of emotional anguish and physical pain and we see plenty of that. I like the connection of the instrument with Anna Maria. How she interpreted the music too was a revelation to me. The scenes she envisaged and how she drew out relationships within the notes, the connection and interaction between the different instruments playing with each other. Listening to classical music and especially Four Seasons will be a whole new experience from now on.
What must have been a very tough existence was somewhat glossed over, but with snippets emerging such as girls being married off, the general conditions are a reminder of how difficult the lives of these girls were. Yet they received a good rounded education and a musical education, something uncommon for the times and thus commendable.

You see the relationship between Antonio and Anna Maria developing, based on their love of music, on their determination to be heard; to be someone. Anna Maria’s single mindedness is phenomenal. But she is always so uncertain, under confident in her abilities, although her survival instincts were most likely spot on, with her paranoia keeping her in the game. Saying that, the other girls are certainly gifted players too. But Antonio was brutal. Dropping girls more on a whim of temper and frustration than on solid grounds, creating a nervousness and sense of insecurity.

The book makes us seriously question how much of Vivaldi’s work was really his and how much was taken from his students; something we will never know. However, given past attitudes and the denial by men of women’s contributions I think it highly likely that a proportion of his work was not his own. I wonder whether he felt that it was his right to take these ideas rather than allow the women the recognition they so deserved. Was it a necessity of the times? Was he willfully manipulating Anna Maria or simply taking her devotion to music for granted and feeling that she owed him? Would it have been so difficult to publicly recognise her brilliance? Would this happen in today’s times? We often feel that change for women is slow but taken over time change does occur. It should be a lot more difficult now for a man to be able to take credit for what a female colleague has created, but not impossible.

Saying that, this novel throws the spotlight of recognition on an important and until now, forgotten female music maestro. Huge congratulations to Harriet Constable for such a fantastic first novel. I cannot wait for it to be published and get on the shelves of my bookshop here in Costa Rica. I am also hugely looking forward to her next book.

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Encore! If this story was a piece of music it would be a sublime concerto! Superbly written from the heart! The music, the sounds, the colours lifted from the pages! Fabulous! Loved it from page one. It is based on the true story of Anna Maria della Pieta who was an orphan at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice. From the age of eight her musical ability is recognised and this story tells how her famous tutor was inspired to help her achieve her goal of becoming not just a member of the famous figlie orchestra, an orchestra composed of talented young women from the orphanage itself but like her tutor, a maestro in her own right! She grows within the orphanage, her only companions being her fellow orphans Paulina and Agata. Their new teacher is famous throughout Venice and the music world, he is a maestro! Anna Maria is a strong, ambitious, hugely talented, naive young lady who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal and he will be the man to teach her! A truly wonderful story - I just wish it were possible to go back in time to listen to the music and the colours of this inspirational young woman!

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This is not a book i would have chosen to pick up and read in the shop, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Tells the true story of Anna Maria, who was Vivaldis star pupil. He wrote over 20 violin concertos for her. Unbenowst to us however, she was actually writing his compositions and he was passing them off as his own. Annna was abandoned in an orphanage wall when she was a child, and developed an interest in music. Vivaldi, a young priest and music teacher took great interest in Anna Maria and nurtured her talent, even buying her very expensive gifts and violins.

I will admit i was a bit creeped out by it, especially the language he used that Anna Maria had to keep parts of their relationship secret. Whilst not directly implied, i do believe that there was a sexual relationship between the 2 starting when Anna Maria was very young. Later on you find out that Vivaldi takes another student also named Anna into his home when she is 13 and Anna Maria goes ballistic suggesting jealousy that she is being replaced.

Vivaldis 4 seasons is some of my favourite music of all time but i dont think i can ever listen to it again knowing that he not only stole it, but that he had sexual relationships with children. He is now forever tainted to me.

An interesting story, not heard of her before but she went on to become the music teacher after Vivaldis fall from grace and composed many violin concertos, i shall go and try and find some of her music.

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Beautifully written and thoroughly engaging, The Insturmentalist is a historical fiction based on Anna Maria della Pieta - an 18th Century musical prodigy and later Maestra of the orphanage's orchestra. Tutored by Antonio Vivaldi, we watch as Anna Maria grows into her own on a journey of self-discovery.

The relationship between Anna Maria and Vivaldi comprises the core of the book and it was so interesting to see how it developed over time. The book doesn't shy away from the accusations of plagerism by Vivaldi and the harsh reality that talented, intelligent women in this era weren't given the recognition they deserved.

My only gripe is the modern attitudes displayed by the characters at times but overall this doesn't distract from what is a fantastic debut novel by Constable.

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Harriet Constable is an excellent writer who has created a wonderful novel in “The Instrumentalist.” Do you like to listen to the works of Vivaldi? This book will make you think again when you do!

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The Instrumentalist by Harriet Constable takes readers on a captivating journey through 1704 Venice. Amidst the city's glittering splendor, we are introduced to Anna Maria, a gifted and determined orphan girl with a passion for music. As she strives to become Venice's greatest violinist and composer, her dreams are threatened by her mentor's jealousy. With vivid descriptions and a compelling plot, this book explores themes of ambition, loss, and the power of remembrance. A must-read for fans of historical fiction and music enthusiasts.

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With the exception of a few stylistic points (is 'fantastic' really the best choice of term for this particular register?) this is a really interesting and good novel. I'd have liked slightly more about how the figilie del coro were disabled in different ways - it's hardly touched on, and it's quite fascinating - but overall, I very much enjoyed this.

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There was so much to enjoy about this book, the setting, the premise and the writing. It became even more interesting when I learnt it was based on a real character. That said, she isn't a terribly appealing character! Maybe that was keeping things true to life. Really gripping and a change from many other books of its genre. Would recommend.

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Wow! What an incredible debut this is. I absolutely consumed this book and even found myself furtively reading in the middle of the night with a tiny torch. Anna Maria della Piétro is a fascinating heroine and while not always likeable, I found myself rooting for her. Like all the girls at the Piétro, Anna Maria is an orphan, posted through the tiny hatch in the Ospedale Della Pietá often with a note or keepsake from the unlucky girl who had leave her child behind. The author shows us the incredible splendour of Venice, a place I fell completely in love with, contrasted with it’s destitution and desperation. A state that seems more likely for women, especially those from a poorer background. The convent brings up it’s girls very strictly, according to the Catholic faith and the virtues of hard work from scrubbing the floors or working in the nursery. It is also a college of music. Each girl is taught at least one instrument with the best trying out for the orphanage’s orchestra, the figlio. Those chosen will work with the master of music and they will play in the some of the most beautiful basilicas and palazzos in all of Venice. Anna Maria’s great love is the violin and there’s no doubt she will try to become the best.

Anna Maria is a bundle of youthful exuberance, fireworks, talent and ambition. She practically leaps off the page and it seems impossible for her to fail. She starts by aiming to be noticed by the master of music and after that to be the youngest member of the figlio. No sooner is one ambition fulfilled then she’s already thinking of the next. The rewards are also intoxicating - not that Anna Maria cares much for the lace shawls from Burano, but she is partial to the small pastries with candied peel and spices that she loves to share with friends Paulina and ?? Through them we see the girl rather than the musician. They bring out a lightness of spirit, playfulness and a sense of sisterhood. The love she has for her custom made violin is absolutely infectious and when she becomes the favourite of the music master will those girlish aspects of her character remain? Constable shows us a dark underbelly, both to the Ospedale and their music programme. Although the alternatives are even worse. She also shows us huge disparity between the rich and poor in Venice. As visitors we only see the beauty and history of this incredible city, but once I did catch a glimpse of the systems that keep the city going. While waiting on a jetty to catch my water taxi one early morning I met the dustbin men of the city, having to negotiate tiny lanes and creaking jetties to clear up after all the visitors. When Anna Maria gets to play at private palazzos, the grandeur is overpowering. After her performances she is showered with lavish gifts that are at home where she plays but out of place in her bare room. She also notices that those orphans who don’t excel are easy pickings for the rich patrons of the Ospedale. Unsurprisingly, Anna Maria wants to escape the fate of becoming a wife to a much older man and putting aside her talent. As she is taken under the wing of a female patron, Elizabetta ?? She’s impressed by incredible dresses and Elizabetta’s elegant palazzo, but this patron also uses her wealth for good. She shows Anna Maria another fate for the cities’ poor women, by taking her to a brothel where the wealthy woman helps with supplies ensuring these women can make their living in safe and clean surroundings. She points out to Anna the danger in becoming a favourite - there are always people lining up to replace you. When the master is fickle or arrested by a newer, talented young girl what would happen to Anna? It makes her think about the person she replaced for the first time.

I loved the synaesthetic aspect to Anna Maria’s talent because it really added to my understanding of why she loves it so much. I have tastes that are related to colour, so if I see a garden full of beautiful yellow daffodils my mouth begins to water and I get the sensation and taste of lemon sherbet sweets. As Anna Maria plays, colours dance through her and the flurry of colour gives us a sense of how transformative it is for her to play. She is utterly lost in this moments. She’s floating within a rainbow of colour. Even when she begins to compose the written notes on the page are hastily drawn because she’s somewhere else experiencing a unique explosion of sound and colour. Even though she’s not always likeable I was still rooting for her. However some of her tougher decisions are made from within the context of survival. Only by being ruthless and getting to the position of power she craves can she feel safe. Then she can make better, more equitable decisions from a place of safety. This is an incredible story, made all the more powerful because Anna did exist. While this is a novelisation rather than an autobiography she was real and so was her music master . He is a mercurial and sometimes cruel man whose identity remains unspoken - although I did realise who he was part way through. I loved that this is written as a feminist counterpoint to his fame, highlighting a woman of equal talent who is cheated in a creative partnership and ends up with her woke stolen and uncredited. This is an abusive relationship characterised by manipulation, exploitation and a fascination with talented pre-pubescent young girls. Harriet has created a brilliant work of historical fiction that gives voice to one such young woman full of spark, talent and incredible drive to succeed. Her book is totally immersive, plunging us into a world where women were expendable, only there to parrot and enhance a man’s talent. It’s a powerful and compelling tale that I’m sure I’ll still remember when it comes to my end of year favourite books.

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Anna Maria is a young girl whose life takes place inside the walls of the Osepedale della Pieta orphanage in Venice, home to illegitimate and unwanted female children, often of the Venetian nobility and courtiers of the late 17th century. She was an unruly child but had a prodigious talent for both playing the violin and for composition. Her teacher and mentor was none other than Antonio Vivaldi and over her childhood and young womanhood she thrived and became as famous as her master, bringing in huge wealth to the orphanage and an endless stream of valuable gifts for herself. This novel is a fictionalised account of a real person and her battle for equality at a time when men were the masters of classical (Baroque) music and women very much theirs inferiors. Anna Maria’s relationship with Vivaldi was not straightforward and this compelling work of fiction leads the reader to a different world. It does so with vivid characters, a wonderful sense of place, superb research and a story that has such a ring of truth about it that it could be a work of fact rather than fiction.

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The premise of The Instrumentalist sounds (no pun intended) fascinating - have you ever heard about Anna Maria della Pietà, a music genius and Vivaldi's pupil? The opening scene was harrowing and pulled me right into Venice from over 300 years ago and Harriet Constable's writing is rather stunning. The more I read, though, the story became very predictable and repetitive. As we followed Anna Maria from childhood into young adulthood, I knew more or less what would happen next. What irked me the most was Anna Maria herself and I understand the author might've wanted to make her somewhat unlikeable, but she was very irritable, full of herself and I couldn't connect with or care about her character - and she was the main character. The Instrumentalist is an interesting book and it's insanely well researched - it immediately made me want to go to Venice! The writing was beautiful, so I would be curious to see what this author does next.

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Having visited Venice for the first time last year (and falling in love with the city) and also attending a candlelit concert of Vivaldi's Four Seasons so much of this book appealed to me and I am pleased to say that it was wonderful and that I haven't stopped thinking about it since closing the last page.
The story of the female orphans of Venice receiving a training and hope was such a refreshing read, even with the inevitable poor treatment and exploitation and Constable managed to make wholly believable characters that were neither all good or all bad but that were entirely compelling throughout.
Weaving a novel from real life people and events is often a hard thing to pull off completely as putting believable words in to real peoples' mouths isn't straightforward but this book was just wonderful from page one on.
Definitely a contender for my book of the year list.

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A great debut novel based on the life of Anna Maria Della Pieta, in 18th Century Venice.
The author takes us on her journey from being put in an orphanage as a baby to becoming a musical prodigy. We learn about her determination to succeed & her friendships along the way.
This book has the right amount of descriptive language for the reader to feel they are in the dark backstreets of Venice & the next minute gliding through the opulent palaces.

I hadn't heard of Maria Della Pieta before reading this book but was gripped from the first page. I'm looking forward to the publication date, as I need to have a physical copy on my bookshelf!
Thankyou to NetGalley for my advanced copy in return for an honest review.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the ARC of this book.

This historical fiction book illuminates the life of a young virtuoso violinist (Anna Maria della Pietà) who lived in Venice in the early 18th Century. She was a musician and composer under the tutelage of Antonio Vivaldi, abandoned as a baby and raised in an orphanage, where young girls were expected to take a role in society.

The story follows Anna Maria's early life. At eight years old, she already feels she has talent and a fiery ambition to be the most outstanding violinist in Venice. Anna Maria sees and feels the music she plays as colours; it leaps and soars off the page or from her imagination. The music director at the orphanage spots her talent and singles her out to succeed, pushing her to meet his exacting standards at any cost. However, this manifests in her making heart-breaking decisions about her friends, which stay with her forever. As the book progresses, there is a point where Anna Maria’s talent threatens to overshadow the director, and her destiny hangs in the balance.

This book was a fascinating read, I enjoyed immersing myself in Venice during this period. The children in the orphanage, their friendships and hopes for the future, however difficult and limited this may be. History has hidden stories of girls and women who don't have the same opportunities as boys or men – this story is one example.
It also provides a ‘kaleidoscope’ of life in Venice: the people, colours, sights, sounds and smells, the spectacle, from the rich taking what they want without repercussions and the poor barely surviving hand to mouth.
From the orphanage, as the reader, we snatch glimpses of the canals, sky and patrons who watch the chosen orphans perform music.

Visualization can be a powerful tool - music and colour imagery are used successfully in this story. The author uses colour inventively to describe the beauty of music, adding further depth to this immersive read. ‘The bow flies back and forth as the colours of her mind start to flow. Amber, gold, citrus and white, silver and ochre and puce’.

Overall, this was a wonderful debut novel. The author has undoubtedly raised Anna Maria della Pietà from obscurity to make her mark in history.

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Based on the true life story of Anna Maria della Pieta. Born an orphan in Venice her mother posted her through a post hole in a nunnery and she stays there her whole life. Most baby girls were drowned in the canals.
Anna Maria can see colours in music. And takes up the violin and eventually becomes maestro (anything a man can do, she can do)
She composed the Four Seasons with Vivaldi who was the music teacher in the nunnery.
It’s a truly wonderful story of always believing in yourself and never giving up

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