Set in the 1880s and '90s, As Music and Splendour tells the story of two young Irish girls who are sent to Rome for training as opera singers. Rose red-haired, big-hearted and big-voiced is soon on track to become a prima donna soprano; Clare, also a soprano but subtler and less glamorous, is more at home with sacred music. While Rose juggles the affections of various men, Clare embarks on a passionate affair with her fellow-student Luisa. As Music in Splendour is a thrillingly readable and romantic novel from one of the very few truly important Irish novelists of the twentieth century.
Kate O'Brien (1897-1974) was the author of nine novels, two of which - Mary Lavelle (1936) and The Land of Spices (1941) - were banned in Ireland, the latter on the basis of a single suggestive sentence. No other Irish novelist of the century wrote with as much authority and subtlety about women, often without men: at home and abroad, in convents, and sometimes in love.