Kate Mosse: the bestselling author on why we should put women back into the story of classical music
The Women's Prize for Fiction founder director tells us about her pivot from classical music to writing, collaborating with conductor Odaline de la Martinez and why she thinks Debussy makes the perfect character in a novel
Kate Mosse’s career began behind the scenes in publishing as editorial director of Hutchinson. She has gone on to pen many historic and ghost fiction novels, as well as personal non-fiction books including An Extra Pair of Hands, which sheds light on her experience as a carer for her parents and mother-in-law. In 1996, Mosse co-founded the annual Women’s Prize for Fiction, launched in response to an all-male Booker Prize shortlist. Her latest novel, The City of Tears, is out now in paperback. She spoke to BBC Music Magazine's Freya Parr about the music that has shaped her life.
When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, my parents had an old-fashioned copper turntable with two very old records that I played over and over again. They were my first experiences of hearing a big orchestral sound. One was Karajan’s 1963 recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic, which is often overlooked because of its popularity, but the way it builds drama is so brilliant. I did a lot of ballet when I was a child and remember watching the pianist, thinking I’d rather be doing what they were doing.
Beethoven Symphony No. 5 Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7578
Read all our reviews of Berlin Philharmonic recordings here.
I later began piano lessons and used to listen to Julius Katchen’s recording of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the New Symphony Orchestra of London. I remember trying to play the solo part along with a backing track I had on vinyl. If you lost your way, you’d have to lift the record player’s arm up and start again. It was very laborious – and was a piece well beyond my capabilities. At that point, I thought I was going to pursue music as a profession. Fortunately, I realised in the nick of time that I was a good-enough player… but that was it. I chose to study English at university instead and music then became a real pleasure, rather than work.
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 Julius Katchen; New Symphony Orchestra of London/Anatole Fistoulari
P4Y SCDL 16093
Find out whether this made it into our round-up of the best recordings of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 here.
I fell in love with Russian music and went to the Soviet Union in 1987, where I happened upon a three-hour accordion concert, with 30 accordionists playing Russian music. Everyone took in their own flavoured vodka and kept their coats on because it was so cold. There was something extraordinary about hearing music by the great composers played in their homeland.
When I used to be a publisher, I tried to collaborate on a book with the conductor Odaline de la Martinez, while she was preparing for the 1984 BBC Proms. I’d never seen a woman on the podium when I was growing up. She was the first woman to conduct a Prom, which was so exciting. She wanted to write about the women’s orchestras of the Italian convents, which sadly never ended up happening. My aim is to stand shoulder to shoulder with other women and support and promote their work. Trying to put women back into the story of classical music is so important.
Smyth: Serenade in D
BBC Philharmonic/Odaline de la Martinez
We named Odaline de la Martinez as one of the best living female conductors and one of the 15 people who made the BBC Proms what it is today.
The only time listening to music has been part of my work was when I was working on my novel Sepulchre, in which Debussy appears as a character. I’ve always loved the range of his compositions – the shimmering of light and the feeling of a languid afternoon. Of all his works, though, my favourite is the piano Prelude ‘La cathédrale engloutie’, because it’s based on an old Breton folktale. I love ghost stories and the idea of a cathedral coming out of the sea and dipping back below the waves. Debussy always has a narrative to his music.
Debussy: La cathédrale engloutie
Nelson Freire (piano)
Decca 478 1111
I write in silence. We don’t have a lot of music in the house, because my mother-in-law Granny Rosie lives with us and wears a hearing aid, so music is difficult if it’s not the focal point. She likes old musicals and songs of the 1930s and ’40s, so we’ll listen to music like that together. Mostly, though, I listen to music when I’m driving and I tend to listen back to re-runs of Radio 3’s programme Night Tracks. You never know what you’re going to get. You’re introduced to music you’d have never found elsewhere, so end up listening to music from all kinds of musical traditions and cultures. Thanks to Night Tracks, I discovered Anne Dudley’s album Songs from the Victorious City with Jaz Coleman. It’s kind of world music, telling an epic story. You can almost imagine the sun rising and setting. Right from the shimmering sound at the beginning, it’s like reading a novel.
Songs from the Victorious City
Anne Dudley (keyboards)
China Records 847 098-2
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.