The Darling Girls begins with the funeral of Leo Bruck, a world-famous conductor, and a man whose life was inevitably steeped in music. Victoria, his partner of more than twenty years and mother of his two children, believes that Leo listened only to classical music. Indeed, she herself was once a professional cellist.

For the funeral she chooses one of his own recordings, Mozart’s beautiful 'Requiem in D minor', followed by Bach’s moving ‘Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe’ (‘I stand with one Foot in the Grave’).

But there are two other women in Leo's life. Cat knows that, in her company at least, Leo enjoyed an eclectic mix of contemporary music, including Lily Allen, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse and Green Day. Meanwhile Maddy, mother of his third child, shared Leo's love of Berg’s brutal and uncompromising 'Wozzeck', as well as Roby Lakatos, the extraordinary and scorching ‘Devil’s Fiddler’. This playlist follows the musical tastes of a character living three different lives - it made for some varied choices.

During my research for The Darling Girls, I interviewed the renowned conductor Paul Goodwin. He described the extraordinary, peripatetic lives that many conductors lead and kindly shared with me some of his own, personal musical favourites. I think it’s fair to say that he’s interested in music of all kinds, though in some genres and composers rather more than others.

To a lesser extent perhaps, music has always been important to me too. I often play something quietly in the background when I’m in my study writing. I find it soothing and it gets me in the zone. The only problem with selecting sounds for a book is the huge number of options, particularly as Leo’s taste was so wide-ranging.

When I watch the film or play of a book I’ve loved, I’m rarely completely satisfied with the choice of actors. (One recent exception was a wonderful stage adaptation of George Eliot’s Middlemarch at the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond, South West London, close to where I live. To my surprise and delight, Dorothea and Casaubon were spot on!)

Music, too, is highly personal. Sometimes I find that a soundtrack distracts from what I’m watching. Either it’s too loud, inappropriate-seeming or just plain annoying and over the top. At other times it beautifully complements the mood and enhances the atmosphere, just as it should.

Choosing the right music felt to me a little like trying to find the perfect actor to play a particular character in one of my books. I realise that you can’t please everyone because we all have our own, often quite fixed, ideas of how a fictional person might appear and sound.

But I trust that I’ve manage to capture at least some of the ambience that I’ve tried to convey at certain key moments in The Darling Girls: grief, anger, optimism, despair, longing, excitement – and pure uncomplicated joy. I think that Leo and his ‘Darling Girls’ would have approved of my choices – and I hope you do too.

Happy listening!

Emma Burstall is the author of The Darling Girls, out now in eBook and paperback.
To listen to this playlist, and to browse our other playlists, follow Head of Zeus on Spotify.


Spotify playlist, 18 tracks, 58 mins. 

1. Chapter One: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Requiem in D minor.

2. Chapter One: Johann Sebastian Bach - Cantata no 156 ‘Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe’ 

3. Chapter Two: Lily Allen – Who’d Have Known.

4. Chapter Three: Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.2 in C Minor ‘Resurrection’. Movement I.

5. Chapter Six: Nina Simone – I Put a Spell on You.

6. Chapter Ten: Coldplay – Paradise.

7. Chapter Ten: Green Day – Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

8. Chapter Nineteen: Shirley Bassey - Cry Me a River.

9. Chapter Twenty Two: Berg’s Wozzeck. Finale.

10. Chapter Twenty Five: Johann Sebastian Bach. 6 Suites a Violincello solo senza Basso. Suite No 1 in G. Prelude.

11. Chapter Twenty Five: Roby Lakatos – Hungarian Dance No 5.

12. Chapter Twenty Eight: Bill Withers - Ain’t no Sunshine When You’re Gone.

13. Chapter Thirty: Aretha Franklin - I’m Sitting on Top of The World.

14. Chapter Thirty: Lou Reed - Perfect Day.

15. Chapter Thirty: Neil Young – Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

16. Chapter Thirty One: Passenger – Let Her Go.

17. Chapter Thirty Two: Billie Holiday – The Very Thought of You.

18. Chapter Thirty Three: Fairground Attraction – Perfect.