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Francis Tregian (c1574-1617) an English recusant from a Cornish family, has been put forward as the copyist/compiler of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and other musical manuscripts/ collections of note. (a work by William Byrd in the FVB, also known as Hugh Aston’s Ground, carries the appellation ‘Tregian’s ground’). The debate over all that continues, but here the (sadly recently deceased) Anne Cuneo concocts an imagined tale of Tregian’s life. This is written on the grand scale, bringing him into contact with such British luminaries as Shakespeare, Byrd and Giles Farnaby – but also whisking him around Europe, into royal circles and even meeting Claudio Monteverdi.

Music and collecting music, it transpires, provide Tregian with a distraction from the impact on him and his family of the religious stresses and strains of the times, as England and Europe struggle to digest the arrival of Protestantism. Tregian’s father (who history relates spent 20 years imprisoned for catholic ‘crimes’) insists his son holds fast to the old faith, despite the tensions this will create under Elizabeth I’s Protestant regime.

Anne Cuneo was a Swiss writer and journalist whose work embraced the worlds of theatre and film. Tregian’s Ground certainly has many cinematic qualities – of the best kind. The novel originally appeared in French as long ago as 1993, winning the Prix des Libraires. The vivid, free-flowing translation here is by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and Roland Glasser. This more than does justice to what is a marvelously rich and multi-layered piece of work on Cuneo’s part, which nonetheless wears lightly – in part, thanks to the first-person present-tense narration – the painstaking research that went into it, evidenced in a short essay by the author and a bibliography.

Serious students of either history or music are not going to be disappointed here – the sole drawback being the slightly small typeface which over 500 pages irritates at times.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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