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Ghost Variations

The strangest detective story in the history of music by Jessica Duchen

This book is published, but you can still pledge for rewards!

Ghost Variations cover

The Synopsis

The strangest detective story in the history of music – inspired by a true incident.

A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.

1933. Dabbling in the fashionable “Glass Game” – a Ouija board – the famous Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, one-time muse to composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Elgar, encounters a startling dilemma. A message arrives ostensibly from the spirit of the composer Robert Schumann, begging her to find and perform his long-suppressed violin concerto.

She tries to ignore it, wanting to concentrate instead on charity concerts. But against the background of the 1930s depression in London and the rise of the Nazis in Germany, a struggle ensues as the “spirit messengers” do not want her to forget.

The concerto turns out to be real, embargoed by Schumann’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration: it was his last full-scale work, written just before he suffered a nervous breakdown after which he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It shares a theme with his Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) for piano, a melody he believed had been dictated to him by the spirits of composers beyond the grave.

As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, where the manuscript is held, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the concerto. When the Third Reich’s administration decides to unearth the work for reasons of its own, a race to perform it begins.

Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess, and a young music publisher who falls in love with her – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.

In the ensuing psychodrama, the heroine, the concerto and the pre-war world stand on the brink, reaching together for one more chance of glory.

The Excerpt

Jelly laid out the letters alphabetically in a two-row semi-circle on the kitchen table – which seemed the least formal, least frightening environment. Beside them she set in place an upended tumbler. In his basket by the back door, Cesar yawned and thumped his tail before going back to sleep, nose on paws.

She scrawled “yes” and “no” on pieces of paper ripped from a notebook, each in her huge, untutored hand. She had gone to school for eight days; each time, she’d cried so much that eventually her mother could stand it no longer, took pity and kept her home. After that, Jelly could – and did – play her violin to her heart’s content. Today she fitted about twelve words on to an average piece of letter paper.

They lit a sole candle; around it the rest of the room disappeared into the night, while an island of surreal creamy gold highlighted the whorls in the old wooden surface. Now this seemed a cavern fit for other-worldly activities. The two women sat opposite each other; Jelly tried to steady her hand, which was quivering a little with nerves.


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The Author

Jessica Duchen writes for The Independent on classical music, opera and ballet, and during the past 25 years has interviewed many of the world’s finest musicians. Her first four novels (published by Hodder) have gathered a loyal fan-base and wide acclaim. “Duchen has a rare talent which is increasingly being recognised” (Gavin Esler, The Glasgow Herald).

Jessica grew up in London, read music at Cambridge, also studying piano, and felt torn at first between the prospects of a musical career and a literary one. Having decided to be “sensible” – perhaps a debatable point – and choose the latter, she held editorial posts on several music magazines before going freelance to concentrate on writing.

Her interest in cross-genre arts finds music playing a vital role in her novels as well as her journalism, and she frequently narrates concert versions of two of them, Alicia’s Gift and Hungarian Dances. She is currently writing an opera libretto for the composer Roxanna Panufnik, a commission from Garsington Opera for 2017.

Her output also includes two plays, biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré (both published by Phaidon) and her popular classical music blog, JDCMB (

Jessica lives in London with her violinist husband and their two cats. She enjoys playing the piano, preferably when nobody can hear her, as well as cookery, long walks and plundering second-hand bookshops for out-of-print musical gems.

Questions & Answers

There won't be a hardcopy (signed or otherwise)?

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen replied:

Hello David, thanks for your message. At the moment the plan is that this will be an e-book. I hope, though, that if it does well, Unbound may decide to do a print edition, or perhaps they might be able to do print on demand. If either of those happens, I would be delighted to sign a copy for you!
All the best,

Rami Abiel Rami Abiel asked:

I just pledged to your novel and wish you lots and lots of luck and success. I hope it’ll be a film.

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen replied:

Hello Rami, thank you so much for your contribution and your good wishes. I do hope you'll enjoy the book - and it would be brilliant if anyone wanted to turn it into a film. My ideal cast would include Kristin Scott Thomas, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai and Sebastian Koch, for starters!
All the best,

The Rewards

This book is now published. You can still pledge, but you won't get listed as a supporter in the back.

Ebook Only

A copy of the ebook in all three DRM-free, standard formats (.epub, .mobi and PDF)


Ebook edition and your name in the list of patrons in the back of the ebook

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Super Patron

Ebook edition and your name in list of Super Patrons in the front of the ebook

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Limited Edition Cover Art

Limited edition giclée print of the cover art from Unbound's award winning designers, ebook edition and your name in the Super Patrons list in the front of the ebook.

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Everything at Super Patron level plus access to a special Ghost Variations digital playlist curated by the author.

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Launch Party

An invitation for 2 people to attend the launch party, plus everything at the Playlist level.

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Early Bird Concert Special

MUST BE BOOKED BY 31 JANUARY 2016. Join our group visit to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 6 February 2016 (7pm, or 5.45pm with pre-concert talk) including the Schumann Violin Concerto and enjoy an informal discussion with Jessica and fellow Ghost Variations Early Bird patrons after the performance.

(One ticket per pledge, travel not included) Also includes everything from the playlist level.


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Sponsor A Character

Sponsor one of the novel’s characters and receive extra background material about him or her from the author, plus your name in a special list of Character Sponsors in the front of the ebook. Choose from Jelly d’Arányi, Adila Fachiri, Myra Hess, Donald Francis Tovey and Yehudi Menuhin. Plus everything at the launch party level.

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A personal dedication from the author in the front of the ebook plus everything at the Launch Party level

Only one available

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Personal Lecture

Personal illustrated lecture in your own home (or other venue if you have access to one). Jessica will present a talk with musical illustrations for you and your friends about Jelly d’Arányi and the Schumann Violin Concerto (you’ll have to cover travel expenses, and accommodation if outside London). Plus everything at the launch party level.

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