Music and musicians often prove to be popular fodder for fiction writers. We have compiled twelve of our favourite reads that feature music in their plots…
Through his 1889 novella that takes its name from the fiendish Beethoven Violin Sonata featured, Tolstoy communicates music’s power to incite love, jealousy and – ultimately – murderous rage. ‘Music makes me forget myself, my true condition, it carries me off into another state of being, one that isn’t my own,’ muses the protagonist Pozdnyshev.
Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music weaves music through the personal lives of the members of a working string quartet in a story of love, loss and longing. The leading pair’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Trio Opus 1 No.3, which they first performed in their college years, is a recurring feature. The Daily Telegraph described it as ‘The finest novel about music ever written in English’.
Ian McEwan’s passion for music was evident when he penned the libretto for Michael Berkeley’s 2008 opera For You. And it was also evident when he made the female protagonist in his compelling novel, On Chesil Beach, a talented violinist with dreams of a career on the concert stage.
In a lighter read, Jilly Cooper offers up a romp about the highs and the lows of ‘the sexiest, most flamboyant violinist in classical music’ undone by the male-dominated heights of the industry with her 1996 novel Appassionata.
Barbara Trapido keeps Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin at the heart of The Travelling Hornplayer after the piece gets mentioned in the letters of a deceased girl at the start of the novel. And Stella, one of the more striking characters of the book, is a flame-haired cellist studying music at Edinburgh University.
While an a cappella choir rehearses for the first performance of an avant-garde piece in the confines of a Belgian chateau, three distinct stories unfold in Faber’s perceptive prose. This is a real exploration of desires and frustrations seen through the prism of music.
This is a sinister tale of obsession and possession in which a student at Oxford University is increasingly haunted by an apparition during his violin practice. With the discovery of a rare Stradivarius, the boy is slowly overcome by the spirit of a restless 18th-century necromancer.
Shortlisted for the 1997 Man Booker Prize, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel introduces a female composer as she is battling postnatal depression. It is through her cathartic and intuitive approach to composing a symphony that she comes to terms with her demons.
In Doctor Faustus: The life of the German composer Adrian Leverkühn, told by a friend, Mann powerfully sets Goethe’s Faust within a critique of German bourgeois life in the 1940s. A young composer puts his soul in the hands of the devil in exchange for artistic brilliance.
The fourth novel from novelist and BBC Music Magazine critic Jessica Duchen follows a mother and daughter through their respective relationships at a testing times in both of their lives. The division between contemporary London and war torn Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is thrown into sharp relief within the context of a celebrated opera singer having to contemplate the loss of her voice.
The debut from Patrick Gale was motivated by the desire to subvert traditional romantic fiction and at its heart is an annual music festival in Cornwall and a prodigious violinist, soon to attend music college.
Tremain’s historical novel is a feast of kings and courtiers, and lutenists and loyalty, set in the year 1629. When the young Peter Claire arrives at a Danish Court to play in King Christian IV’s Royal Orchestra he finds himself embroiled in a world of exploitation and war between good and evil.