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Haydn Mystery Book Club Questions

Prussian Counterpoint

  1. Prussian Counterpoint reveals some methods eighteenth-century intelligencers used to convey and intercept secret messages. Can you think of other methods prevalent at the time?
  2. In what ways have espionage techniques developed since that time?
  3. To what extent have they remained the same?
  4. To what extent did women’s role in eighteenth-century society facilitate their role as intelligencers?
  5. What advantages or disadvantages do modern-day women possess in the field? Are contemporary female spies as likely to be successful as their eighteenth-century counterparts.
  6. Marianne von Auersperg doesn’t hesitate to use her sexuality to get what she wants. Does she seem unusual for an eighteenth-century individual?
  7. Would you say contemporary women use their sexuality in the same manner? Or have we developed other methods of persuasion?
  8. Prussian Counterpoint is unusual in its inclusion of a dog—a well-loved pet—in its plot. How did eighteenth-century individuals regard their animals?
  9. Does Haydn’s view of Pepi the dog reflect typical eighteenth-century attitudes toward animals?
  10. To what extent was Frederick the Great unusual in his love for his hunting dogs?
  11. Can you think of other eighteenth-century individuals who might have been unusual in this regard?
  12. Why do you suppose our attitude toward animals has evolved from the eighteenth century?
  13. In the novel, Haydn and Johann discuss the relative merits of meantone and well-tempered tuning. What effect do you think this has on the music of the past and our reception of it?
  14. Should music from the past be played on instruments tuned in a manner similar to the ones for which the composer originally wrote the music?
  15. There’s a strong case but no hard evidence that Frederick the Great was homosexual. Would the privileges of class, position, and wealth have been sufficient to overcome negative attitudes toward homosexuality in the eighteenth century?
  16. To what extent can they do so now?
  17. The Polish situation illustrates that freedom can be easily lost and a free people tragically enslaved. Discuss.
  18. What advice would you give to a country in Poland’s predicament?
  19. Empress Maria Theresa was set against the partition of Poland but was ultimately unable to prevent it. Could Austria have acted differently to prevent partition?
  20. Both Prussia and Russia couched their overtaking of Poland as a means of setting the nation free and of ensuring minority rights. Can you think of other examples where good intentions have yielded tragic results; where a thirst for power has been presented in the guise of concern for people’s welfare?

A Minor Deception

  1. Do you think Haydn makes a good detective? Consider his personality, background, and position as Kapellmeister (Director of Music) in your discussion.
  2. The novel provides us with a picture of Austro-Hungarian relations at the time. What do we learn of Royal Hungary’s position as an Austrian colony?
  3. Does the situation in Royal Hungary seem similar to or different from other colonized nations? Consider, for instance, the American and Indian experience under British rule.
  4. Colonial politics can be complex. Did you find yourself rooting for or against the Empress and the Habsburgs as the story unfolded?
  5. What is the role of women in A Minor Deception? To what extent, do you think, does Haydn need their help to solve the case?
  6. Readers have alternately perceived Maria Anna as a shrew or a strong woman. In your opinion, which is she? 
  7. If you were a friend of the Haydn family, what advice would you give them to help improve their relationship? Do you suppose that, despite their differences, Haydn and his wife love each other?
  8. What impression do you get of social mobility and the potential for it in eighteenth-century Austria? In what way was it different from, or similar to, the situation in other countries?
  9. Which characters represent the possibility of social mobility in the novel?
  10. In the course of his investigation, Haydn uncovers an espionage ring. What do you know of eighteenth-century espionage techniques and their value? Consider, for instance, the Revolutionary War in America or stories from Europe.
  11. Deception plays a role on a number of levels in the novel. What are some of the ways it plays out in A Minor Deception?
  12. What do we learn about eighteenth-century musical practices?

Aria to Death

  1. What do you know about Monteverdi and his music?
  2. Does the scenario outlined in the plot of Aria to Death about the manner in which seven of Monteverdi’s operas came to be lost seem plausible?
  3. The novel suggests these operas were discovered. Does Vienna seem a likely place for their discovery? What kind of Vienna-Mantua connections does the author reveal to us in the course of the novel?
  4. Why is Haydn the best person for this investigation? Consider the strategy he devises for authenticating the music.
  5. What do we learn about authenticating music in this novel?
  6. From what you’ve learned, would you say the composer’s style is the most or the least important component in the process?
  7. In what ways is authenticating a musical score similar to authenticating a painting or a document such as a letter or a diary?
  8. What do we learn about smallpox and the contemporary debate on inoculation? Do you think the method Baron van Swieten describes to Haydn is a good one? 
  9. Had you lived in Haydn’s Austria, would you have subjected yourself to inoculation?
  10. What images of Vienna do we get? If you’ve visited the city, in what ways does present-day Vienna resemble its eighteenth-century counterpart? In what ways has it changed?
  11. What do we learn about behind-the-scenes activity in the production of an opera? To what extent do you think singers dictated the composition of the music?
  12. What is your opinion of the voluptuous soprano, Frau Dichtler, and the role she plays in the plot?
  13. What do you think of sub-plot characters Rosalie, Gerhard, and Greta? Where do you think their story is going? Where would you like it to go?
  14. What do we learn of Viennese convents? Did you know that musical nuns were allowed to keep claviers in their rooms?
  15. Ten years after their parting, what are Haydn’s feelings for his wife’s sister, Therese? How does Therese feel about him?