Beautiful, talented young pianist Helen
O’Donnell appears set for a career as a performer. However, despite her
outstanding record as a student at the Queensland Conservatorium, she suffers
from acutely debilitating stage fright which threatens to sabotage a very
promising concert career.
At her teacher’s urging, she seeks professional help and determines to keep
performing. She is awarded a scholarship to study in
where all goes well for a time, although she misses her fiancé desperately.
However, Helen soon begins to sense that something is very wrong. She is, in
fact, being stalked by an unknown musician who knows the pieces she is studying
and models the stalking day by day upon a famous piece by Bach – the Sixth
Partita. Having conquered her inner fears so courageously, Helen, alone
and far from home, is now left to face the terror of a violent death at
the hands of a psychopath.
In Store Price: $AU23.95
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Number of pages:
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
READ THESE REVIEWS:
"This is a crime novel that rings with
musical themes... the compelling story-telling grabs hold...an intriguing
thriller with an unusual twist."
(Gillian Wills, The Courier Mail, Brisbane)
"It is a rare delight to be invited to
review a novel by a well-known local musician...The story has a unique
structure...using the element of suspense to maintain tension... easy and
enjoyable reading. ...at times rather clever in its turn of phrase."
( Dr.Peter Roennfeldt, Director, Queensland Conservatorium of Music,
Griffith University, Bravura, M.T.A.Q. Journal )
Hoey was born in
, but has lived most of her life in
. She is a professional musician, having graduated as a mature-age student from
the Queensland Conservatorium with a distinction in piano. She subsequently
studied cello, playing that instrument in a community orchestra when she is not
performing piano concertos with the same orchestra. She was a piano examiner for
thirty-two years, is a frequent adjudicator and currently teaches both piano and
has been a parallel passion ever since the age of nine when she found herself on
without anything to read and solved the problem by writing a terrible book
about a dog called Spotty. It kept her occupied for a whole three weeks. Three
years later she won a state-wide essay competition as well as carrying off the
English prize at school nearly every year. After school she enrolled at
from which she graduated with an arts degree, majoring in English.
her busy life as a musician and a mother, she still found the time to write
numerous articles, short stories and poetry. With her husband Denis, she wrote
three musicals for children, one of which, The Loaded Dog, enjoyed an
extremely successful schools tour with the Queensland Arts Council. In 1986 she
co-founded the national church music magazine One Voice, which she edited
alone for five years. A non-fiction book Under the Mulberry Tree,
published in 1998, describes the experience of growing up in the riverside
suburb of Bulimba.
Hoey has four adult sons, an increasing number of grandchildren and an extremely
patient husband, also a musician.
Sixth Partita is her first novel.
It had always fascinated me, the Sixth
Partita. That final work in a set of six that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for
keyboard over two hundred years ago, starting in 1726 and finishing in 1731.
Totally unlike the other five in the set. Dark. Intense. Brooding. Introverted
in the extreme. What was he thinking of when he wrote it? Why is it so much more
complex than the others? Why so difficult, so challenging, yet, for me, so
compulsively absorbing, so completely rewarding to play? And for that matter,
why the composer’s preoccupation with the number six? He wrote six cello
suites, six French suites, six English suites, six violin suites, six
Brandenburg Concertos and of course the six partitas for keyboard. And that’s
not all. Many of these works each contain six movements.
Perhaps for Bach, a devout
Christian, the number six had some strong significance, six being a multiple of
three, the number of the Trinity. Who can now get inside his mind, that unique
and beautiful mind of a long-dead genius? And anyway, does it matter? Perhaps it
matters to a musicologist or to a scholar. But I am not a musicologist. I am
only a performer, an interpreter of the creations of talents so much greater
than mine. I try to remember this any time I start to feel too pleased with
myself. It helps me to keep my feet on the ground.
It is over fifteen years since
this haunting work by Bach first came into my life—and in its coming, very
nearly ended it. The partita was tightly woven into every seam of my existence.
I can look back now from the warm sanctuary of a Queensland summer to another
summer, cooler, darker and infinitely more dangerous, in which death stalked me
every day, though I didn’t always know it. Perhaps this was just as well.
There is only so much sheer terror that the human soul can endure without going
Nearly half a lifetime has
passed. For many years,
has once more been my home; yet the story of those short months in
is burnt forever into my memory, each detail sharp and cruelly clear. How could
it be otherwise, when I know that every second of my continuing life is pure
gift, sheer miracle; a miracle that would never have happened but for a freak
circumstance on the banks of the Thames in Furnival Gardens.
piece preceding something … or forming the first number of a suite (or
With the wisdom of hindsight, it’s
easy for me now to say that I should have seen it all coming. There were
portents. There were dreams. There were signs which may have been clear enough
to eyes much older than mine. But I was young and trustful. In my sheltered
world of naïve innocence, I had never experienced evil. I did not know then
that the seemingly innocuous events of those fateful months ahead were nothing
but a macabre kind of rehearsal for some future performance, a performance
bizarre beyond all imagining. For the moment, the problems of my day-to-day
existence were enough to be going on with.
I awoke with the familiar sick feeling
in the pit of my stomach. The discomfort waxed and waned in a ghastly tide,
keeping pace with the ebb and flow of my thoughts. Snatched fragments of sleep
were shattered by abrupt excursions into an unwelcome consciousness.
I had tossed and turned all
night. Deep breathing and relaxation helped. For a while. Until the onslaught of
the next wave. Prayer helped. For a while. In desperation, I got up and made
myself a cup of cocoa. After that, I did get to sleep for a few miserable hours.
Until the thud of the paper on the front lawn woke me one final time.
“Goodness, Helen, you look a
“Thanks, Mum,” I yawned,
“always the flatterer, aren’t you?”
She came over and gave me a hug.
“What is it this time, sweetie? Not the lunchtime recital?”
I nodded. “I know it’s
stupid. I know I have to get over it. Anyone would think I was about to be eaten
by lions, instead of just playing some Bach in front of fifty people. But …”
Many disturbing thoughts hung
upon that ‘but’. The fact that half the keyboard department would be there
listening for every unscholarly detail they could find in my performance. The
fact that I was already tired from a week of midnight oil-burning on my thesis.
Most of all, the hideous reality of Diane Forsayth who would be there sniggering
to herself and hoping that I’d make a fool of myself in front of a hall full
Like me, Diane was a
post-graduate student at the Conservatorium. But there, I would hope, the
similarity ended. Most people who knew her had her correctly catalogued as a
complete bitch—over-ambitious, arrogant, condescending and fiercely
competitive. Moderately talented, she had a fantastic technique but didn’t
know what to do with it. This didn’t stop her from entertaining the delusion
that she was about to become a reincarnation of Liszt. In the early days of our
courses, some of us had tried to befriend her but had got absolutely nowhere.
Today, I needed her like a bad case of botulism.
“You shouldn’t let Diane get
to you,” said my mother. “She’s not worth losing any sleep over.”
I knew that. I knew that the
opinions of other people were valuable, but within reason. How I envied my best
friend, Gemma Smith. Gemma was a violinist. Short, chubby, snub-nosed, with a
mane of curly blonde hair, she sailed through life with a gracious ease that
looked simple, but which I found impossible to emulate, try as I might. Gemma
wouldn’t have cared if Menuhin himself had been there in the hall when she
played—well, perhaps Menuhin, but nobody less. She played extremely well, too.
Confident, assured, almost impeccable intonation and with a gorgeous tone,
already Gemma was worth listening to. Intensely musical herself, she generously
nurtured the musicianship of others. If she didn’t make it as a soloist (which
she didn’t really seem to want) or a chamber player or an orchestral
violinist, she would make a superb teacher. Just to have her there when you
played made you feel better. I was hoping that today she might manage to cancel
Someone grabbed me from behind
and smothered me in a ferocious bear hug.
“Good luck, Anna Magdalena,”
laughed my boyfriend, Andrew.
I was standing in the green room,
waiting to go on stage. I turned around to face him, burying my head on his
“I can’t do this,” I
exclaimed wildly. “Andrew, I just can’t do it!”
There was no time for extended
comforting. “Just go, love. You’ll be great. I’m going back now to sit
there where you can see me and to cheer you on.”
vanished through the corridor and I was left alone in this stifling,
claustrophobic room. Why are green rooms always such depressing places, I
wondered? On second thoughts, I supposed that any torture chamber would look
much the same to its victims. For God’s sake, Helen, stop being such an idiot.
You’re not going to the gas oven. You know this thing backwards. The Toccata
which forms the prelude to the Sixth Partita. What a good idea to have a
Bach concert. Four different students playing. Only I wish one of them wasn’t
me. Perhaps if I’m sick enough, I won’t have to play. Gemma has almost
finished the Chaconne.
Marvellous, as always. I’m going to sound terrible after her brilliant
The clapping roused me from my
introspection. Gemma came off stage, violin tucked under her arm, beaming from
ear to ear. She’d had the time of her life and so had her audience.
“Oh, Helen! Don’t look like
that. You’re going to be terrific. I know you’re scared, but just try to
think of the music and enjoy it … you’d better go. They’re waiting for
My legs somehow managed to carry
me across the platform. In a fog of blind misery, I acknowledged the audience,
found the piano, adjusted the stool and tried to prepare myself, as I had been
shown so often.
Nothing happened. I glanced down
at the keyboard. The notes were all there in place. Look at them, grinning up at
me like black and white tombstones, mocking me from their grisly keybed. Dead
things. Hostile things. Things put there to taunt me in my humiliation.
Get over this! Grow up! Just
start, can’t you?
Where is middle C? For crying out
loud, I can’t even find the bloody notes. How does it begin? My mind dissolved
into a red swirl of terror. I’ll have to get up and go off stage.
I can’t do this. I’ll never
hold my head up here again. Never mind even thinking about graduating.
in the audience coughed. I looked down. And then I saw them. Andrew. And Mum.
Sitting together. I had not been expecting my mother. I had asked her to stay
away, such was the state I was in at breakfast. Typically, she had ignored me
when she knew I wasn’t making any sense. And now as I looked, I saw the secret
sign. That lifted thumb, our special communication that meant, “It’s all
right. I’m here. You’ll be fine.” From the time I was a small child, that
sign had got me through numerous eisteddfods, competitions and similar ordeals.
Suddenly, I was ten again and playing Four
Funny Frogs in the
Brisbane Eisteddfod. I sighed.
The fog lifted from my brain and
I began. Those first, magic, swirling notes of the toccata that introduces this
magnificent work. I felt at home here. Don’t think about the fugue that’s
coming next. Don’t think about it. Just enjoy the toccata.
The fugue began confidently. This
is fun. I’m starting to relish it. The weaving and interweaving of subject,
answer, counter-subject and episodes all made their familiar and beautiful
patterns under my fingers. They’re coming alive, these inanimate blobs of
black printer’s ink on the lifeless page. How do we do it, we performers? How
do we convert these inert patterns on paper into living sounds of such
Nearly through the fugue now and
back to the re-statement of the toccata.
Oh my God, what comes next?
A resurgence of blinding terror,
during which I felt the whole thing about to unravel before I pulled it back
into line again, using a superhuman concentration and willpower that I didn’t
know I possessed.
I finished the toccata drenched
in sweat. In a daze, I walked offstage, oblivious of everything. From miles
away, I heard the applause. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now except the
incredible relief and the certain knowledge that I was never, never in a
thousand years, going to put myself through this torture again.
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