February 2007

Violin and Classical Music Novels

February 28, 2007 17:11

I love novels. I love violins and the classical music world. Therefore, as you might guess, I love novels about the violin and the classical music world. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vikram Seth - An Equal Music
This is the Mecca of literary music fiction for me. Please, can someone help me find another like it? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that its equal simply doesn’t exist.

Nathan Shaham – The Rosendorf Quartet
The closest to Seth’s equal, narrated through the perspective of four Jewish refugees, fleeing Germany in the wake of WW II, to Palestine. Thoughtful, soulful and a great peek in at the interpersonal dynamics in a string quartet.

Mark Salzman – The Soloist
Wonderfully written, lively, interesting story, featuring a 30-ish former child prodigy who can no longer perform and isn’t quite sure why. I’m sort of cheating here – the protagonist is a cellist.

Arnold Steinhardt - Indivisible by Four
Cheating again. No, this is not a novel, but it is has that irresistible Omigod-I-have-to-keep-reading feeling to it. It’s a memoir, and it’s one of the best-written ones I’ve read.

Virginia Euwer Wolfe - The Mozart Season
Recommended to me by v.com member Theresa Martin. Even though it’s categorized as young adult, it is elegantly written, not too girlish or simplistic. I loved the way it put me into the head of a talented young violinist whose talent was still developing.

Paul Adam - The Rainaldi Quartet
I usually don’t read thriller/mysteries, and actually I wouldn’t recommend this to someone seeking just that, because that aspect is not what makes this book so good. Told from the point of view of a luthier, the violin details are exquisite and the story is compelling and heartfelt. One of those stories that you’ll remember long after you’ve read the well-deserved ending.

Kristy Kiernan - Catching Genius
A new kid on the block, coming out in a few days. I’m cheating again. This isn’t really a “violinist” novel as much as a story from the perspective of a woman who plays the violin. I’ve just reviewed this book, so I hope you’ll allow me to digress here. In a nutshell: two sisters, whose young lives were irrevocably altered when one was diagnosed as a math genius must now, as adults, deal with the fallout in their relationship. Young Connie, the “non-genius,” focused on playing the violin in order to regain their father’s attention, and while she reached great proficiency, she never excelled. Consequently, Estella and her genius “stole” Dad from her. As an adult, however, Connie still plays the violin, though now mostly for pleasure.

The author, not a violinist herself, has infused Connie with the proper authentic detail—the violin hickey, the clipped fingernails, the frustrations of tuning a recalcitrant violin and the sacred nature of a good bow and its hair. Scenes between Connie and the trio members she occasionally performs with are true to life. Connie, however, is never to be found in the story immersing herself in a regular routine of practicing, scales, études and arpeggios. She leaves her violin behind in the car. This frustrated me as a violinist-hungry reader until I realized this flaw was precisely what the author was trying to portray. Connie is not the prodigy – her sister is. Connie’s young son, however, it becomes clear, lives to play music, to experiment with music, to find music in everything. He can’t not play music. It inhabits his soul. He is the family’s new prodigy in, an irony that affects Connie on many levels.

There are some equally interesting math angles to the story as well, when the novel is narrated by Estella, the former math genius. The subject of “math meets creativity” comes up over dinner one night, offering the reader some fascinating tidbits to mull over, such as the concepts of dynamic symmetry, and the divine logarithmic spiral—how specific proportions will repeat themselves over and over in nature and how artists and poets and musicians throughout history have either consciously or unconsciously used those same proportions in their work. The novel is a great read—irresistible premise, good conflicts, nicely detailed but very accessible writing. (You can read the full review of this novel here.)

Those are my violin-and-classical-music-world favorites. Help me stack my shelves with more. What are your favorites?

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