Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer

England, 1923. A gentleman critic named Leslie Shepherd tells the macabre story of a gifted young composer, Charles Jessold. On the eve of his revolutionary new opera’s premiere, Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera—which Shepherd has helped to write. The opera will never be performed.

Shepherd first shares his police testimony, then recalls his relationship with Jessold in his role as critic, biographer and friend. And with each retelling of the story, significant new details cast light on the identity of the real victim in Jessold’s tragedy.

This ambitiously intricate novel is set against a turbulent moment in music history, when atonal sounds first reverberated through the concert halls of Europe, just as the continent readied itself for war. What if Jessold’s opera was a betrayal not only of Shepherd but of England as well?

Wesley Stace has crafted a dazzling story of counter-melodies and counter-narratives that will keep you guessing to the end.


‘Every Composer Is
a Murderer’

incorporating readings from Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace and On Murder, Considered as a Fine Art, a Suite of Five Songs by Daniel Felsenfeld.

  1. First Reading—News Report: 24th July, 1923 (1:54)
  2. "On Murder": Song 1 (1:48)
  3. Second Reading (5:04)
  4. "On Murder": Song 2 (2:34)
  5. Third Reading (4:57)
  6. "On Murder": Song 3 (1:47)
  7. Fourth Reading (6:00)
  8. "On Murder": Song 4 (2:28)
  9. Fifth Reading, including Song 5 (10:40)

Listen to Every Composer Is a Murderer (37:08)

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Listen only to Wesley Stace reading from
Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer (26:41)

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Listen only to Daniel Felsenfeld's five-song suite
On Murder, Considered as a Fine Art (11:49)

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Music by Daniel Felsenfeld

Text by Wesley Stace, adapted from the work of Thomas de Quincey

All songs by Felsenfeld/Harding
(Felsenmusick Publishing Concern/Plangent Visions Music, Inc., ASCAP)


  • Soprano: Mellissa Hughes
  • Flute: Jessica Schmitz
  • Cello: Clarice Jensen
  • Harpsichord: Emily Manzo

Music recorded by Jeff Chestek at The Studio, Philadelphia (courtesy of Larry Gold) (7/24/10)

Readings recorded by Montez Roberts

Mastered and mixed by David Seitz at Shelter Island Sound, NYC


Praise for ‘Charles Jessold, Considerered as a Murderer’

“This clever, entertaining novel will appeal to music and opera buffs and literary-historical fiction fans. The narrative is like a set of Chinese boxes, or perhaps an Agatha Christie novel: open one box and another still waits to be opened and contains a very different story. A virtue of this highly enjoyable diversion is Stace’s sensitivity to tone: he captures the way aesthetes wrote and talked in the giddy early 1920s, when feyness and wit were all.”

Library Journal

“A tremendously imaginative novel that's really several novels in one, for beneath its sparkling surface there are some very murky depths. A wonderfully disquieting read.”

Sarah Waters, author of Fingersmith

“Wesley Stace's tale of music and murder is a baroque intellectual thriller, wittily erudite and psychologically acute. Charles Jessold joins Thomas Mann's Adrian Leverkühn and Randall Jarrell's Gottfried Rosenbaum in the gallery of memorable composers in fiction.”

Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

“We might have predicted that Wesley Stace—a fine novelist and a fine musician—would one day write a novel about music, but could we have predicted that it would be so brilliant? The dialogue sparkles, the prose glimmers, and for once you leave a novel not just haunted by the characters and the story, but humming the tunes. A delightful Opus 3.”

Jonathan Coe, author of The Rotter's Club

“I read Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer in the white noise of a long plane ride; afterward I felt as though I had spent hours listening to symphonies, snatches of music in the midst of being composed, and a low persuasive voice telling me about bad behaviour and surprising sins. This is one of the few novels I have read that is truly musical. Wesley Stace is a brilliant and intensely original writer and this is his most unusual book yet.”

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife