Playing by Heart by Carmela A. Martino

She could compose anything . . . except the life she wanted.


Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the “second sister” means she’ll likely be sent to a convent instead. Ironically, Emilia’s pious older sister, Maria, would gladly become a nun. But Father won’t allow it—her brilliant language skills are too important to his quest for noble status. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents are as indispensable as her sister’s skills. First, though, Emilia must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams but her sister’s very life.

The novel is inspired by the lives of two extraordinary sisters who were far ahead of their time.

Catholic Press Association award-winner 2018
2018 Catholic Arts and Letters Award (CALA) winner for Children's/Young Adult Fiction

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Playing by Heart was inspired by two amazing sisters who were far ahead of their time--mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi and composer Maria Teresa Agnesi. 

"This well-researched novel will leave you feeling like you time-traveled to 18th century Italy, but Playing by Heart's story of young women trying to fulfill their potential and find their place in the world is timeless."

—Today's Catholic Homeschooling

"The characters in this book are interesting and very likable. Topics covered are family ties, vocation and feminism. Being a historical romance will enable this book to be appealing to a variety of readers. So much of the history of Italy is noted in this book that it could be a selected read for high schools."

—Catholic Press Association

“The fact that Playing by Heart is based on the lives of extraordinary real women who were quite ahead of their time makes it a must-read addition for school libraries everywhere. Carmela Martino's writing style blends the historical facts with the emotional family life details in a way that creates a dramatic, beautifully written novel

that will capture the hearts of readers of all ages."

—Roxanne F. Owens, PhD, Chair, Teacher Education, DePaul University

did you


Carmela Martino shares the history behind the characters in Playing By Heart in her blog Celebrating Women’s History through Fiction.