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Donald Greig is a musicologist and baritone member of the Tallis Scholars, who have done him proud with a solid plug for his debut novel on their Gimell recording label website – including quotes from the likes of Terry Jones (think Python) and David Fallows, professor of musicology at the University of Manchester.

Fallows praises the ‘thoroughly plausible academic world’ portrayed in this tale of Andrew Eiger, an obscure American academic (with the hots for Ockeghem) who uncovers an original 15th-century manuscript at Amiens Cathedral which promises an end to that obscurity. If, that is, he can work out just how it should be notated – and who composed it. I won’t ruin the denouement, but you might just need a head for maths to get maximum value. (And if you think of Ockeghem’s contemporary Josquin Desprez as someone who could do no wrong, you might need to remember this is essentially a work of fiction.)

The other main player in the plot, apart from the supporting role (rapidly becoming non-supportive) of Eiger’s long-suffering wife Karen, is the early music ensemble Beyond Compère (punning Loyset Compère, French renaissance composer) and its similarly Ockeghem-interested musical director, Emma Mitchell. Will Emma be more supportive of Andrew’s obsession than Karen? In a purely professional sense, that is.

As you might expect, Time Will Tell captures well the world of the itinerant professional vocal ensemble. Reviewing ‘classical music’ novels sharpens the sense of when the portrayal of this environment is shallow and false. By and large I didn’t feel that here. The concomitant downside is that Greig’s main audience may well be a specialist one – for whom it will likely prove highly entertaining.

One (relatively) small point: the combination of small type, narrow page margins and over-long paragraphs make this a slightly more daunting read than it might have been.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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