ANTONIETTA by John Hersey


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 Maestro Hersey (Fling and Other Stories, 1990, etc.) composes a stately, richly detailed symphony of novel about the creation and fate of a very special Stradivarius violin. In 1699, Antonio Stradivari, severe and superb at 55, glimpses Antonia, a beautiful young widow, as she sways across a piazza in Cremona. A widower who never loved his rapacious first wife, Stradivari is so moved by the sight of Antonia that he bends to his workbench and designs a new violin, one he will name Antonietta. His hand slips once when he hears there may be a snag in his plan to marry Antonia, and even when the marriage contract is signed he leaves the nick in the fretboard as a mark of his great passion. It will become a legendary flaw, and its story will be told (and told wrong) through the centuries. Stradivari knows how especially resonant his Antonietta is, building from the ``trills of something like seduction'' to ``soar on the madness of the wings of love.'' He could never imagine, however, how many hands it will pass through, and how great many hearts its exquisite sound will touchamong them young Mozart, who borrows Antonietta from a concertmaster in Paris. After the concertmaster's death, the violin is stolen by pirates, finally to be recovered and purchased by a brilliant violinist named Baillot. Playing the Stradivari, he becomes an inspiration for the turbulent and original composer Berlioz, who ``burst into tears and went over and kissed the top of Antonietta's case'' when he finishes the last movement of his startling Symphonie fantastique. Antonietta also stirs the complex Russian heart of Stravinsky, in exile in Switzerland. Alas, as of 1990, the sensuous Antonietta has become the property of a tone-deaf, status-obsessed Martha's Vineyard financier. Writing in a multitude of voices and formsletters, narrative, screenplayHersey offers a virtuoso performance.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40194-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1991