Mrose46's Reviews > The Bells

The Bells by Richard Harvell
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Jan 09, 12

Read in January, 2012

The Bells is an almost magical story about a boy who, although he is born of a deaf mute mother, is ironically gifted with the ability to hear and distinguish the slightest and infinite variety of sounds heard in everything from the greatest operatic mass sung in Latin, to the sound of a metal key rubbing against the lock of a bedroom door, to the slightest breath from a baby’s lungs. Born into poverty as the bastard child of a woman who lived off of the charity of the local townspeople and the dreaded desires of the lustful village priest, Moses Froben became immune to the deafness that plagued all those who lived or worked in close proximity to what were considered at the time “the Loudest Bells on Earth,” in the Uri Valley of Switzerland. Instead of going deaf from hearing the bells rung by his waifish mother every day as she danced beneath the bells, pulling and hanging from the ropes, he developed the ability to distinguish every single individual note and tone contained in those titanic beloved and also feared daily peals.

The story of Moses’ six decade transformation from the poor, ragged son of poverty into one of the world’s greatest stars of opera is one that takes him from the village in Switzerland where he was born, to a monastery where he is adopted and rescued from the swirling currents of a river, and on to the protection of the maestros of the music worlds of Vienna and Venice. Along the way, the sheltered Moses is helped by a pair of atypical monks, Remus and Nicolai, whose belief in the power of love, knowledge, beauty and the ordinary pleasures of life is so extreme as to be considered heretical in the traditional world of monastic life.

For those who are not well versed in the world of 18th century European aria, reading the book is an eye-opening tool into certain practices and ways of life of the era. For example, the reader works alongside the dwarf Tasso under the stage of the Burgtheater in Vienna as he deftly draws pulleys that produce changes in backdrops and props on the stage for the grand operas. The reader also learns about the reverence and adoration for the musicians of the time that is such a force that it becomes the motivation and vehicle for the castration of young men whose voices show promise and who will forever after become known as “castrati” or “el musico,” a practice that is horrifying and incomprehensible to the modern reader, forever depriving the “castrati” of the chance for a complete physical and emotional love relationship for the rest of his life. Or perhaps not? What kind of power would be strong enough to restore the wholeness that had been taken away from a man?

One of the underlying themes of the story is that of the power of love as epitomized in the love that existed in the mythic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. According to Greek myth, Orpheus’ love for Eurydice was so strong that he was allowed to travel into the bowels of hell to retrieve Eurydice under one condition; i.e., that he not look upon her face until they were safely out of the ghastly conditions in hell.

The first appearance of the Gluck opera Orpheus in Vienna in 1762 is the setting for the culminating scenes in the book which are every bit as fast paced as any contemporary page turner book. The reader is enthralled as Moses and his band of misfits carry out a plan to kidnap his one true love from the cold loveless noble family where she has been sequestered. After sharing in the story of a lifetime of humiliation, cruelty and deprivation, and with a background of all the passion of the aria sung by Orpheus and the ever more powerful Pummerin bells of the Stephansdom in Vienna, the reader cheers Moses’ determination and daring as he seeks to finally be allowed the experience of pure, unselfish love. Does this Orpheus successfully save his Eurydice? Read the novel and see.

The Bells is the first novel of writer Richard Harvell who based the story on a significant body of research of the geography and events of 18th century Switzerland and Austria.
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