March 1, 2007 at 12:11 AMI 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?
One of my favourite books!
One of my favourite books!
Thanks for the list, too. I copied it down in my notebook. I've been needing a book list.
I like Arnold Steinhardt's new book "Violin Dreams". Plus, he is so tall...
Oh, I am looking forward to the answer to THIS!
Anne - the Overture novel sounds great! Going on my list. Ditto Arnold's Violin Dreams, which got a starred review in Publishers Weekly which is my ultimate reference guide (kind of like the way Roger Ebert is for me and movies).
Emily - the re-issue of A Suitable Boy by Harper Perennial comes in at 1488 pages. I mulled over getting it once, but then acknowledged that there was no way I could get through it with my busy, fractured schedule. And in the end, it's the music of AEM that I so adore.
Keep your comments coming! I love to hear book recommendations and what others love or hate. (Interesting to note that sometimes the same novel will be coveted by one person and despised by the next. Even when you were SO sure that person would LOVE the novel. Ah well - a subjective business, book reading.)
Anyone read this? Picked this up at the library the other day simply because of the title. (Did the same with Anne Rice's Violin. ) The description on the dust jacket tells me it’s about “a brilliant violinist, who, embittered by a truly horrendous gig, has kissed the fiddle and the entire straight world goodbye.” Now, if the violin angle disappears after the first chapter as well, maybe I’ll rethink my interest, particularly since the author has been called “one of the most audacious and inventive young writers in America” and in the end, I’m really not looking for audacious and inventive as much as simply a great story about a character I instantly care about. And who cares about the violin. Or hates it. Heck, would be fun to read a story about someone who was trying to quit the violin but couldn't because the violin wouldn't let him/her go.
That said, I really enjoy the Strings Backstage publications - have read both on the soloists and one on quartets, and regularly pick them up to reread them. Can also put checks on another four from your list. Henri Temianka (sp?) also has a nice memoir out that is very Arnold-esque in its reading. Thanks for the new suggestions, tho.
But fiction. Novels. It's my poison right now, and I need a fix.
I like Roger Ebert too. The local Birdcage Liner runs his reviews. Netflix has a whole section of Ebert's picks!
Thanks for starting this list, Terez! I'll have to check out some of these.
published Feb '86 by Warner Books.
"Spring Sonata" is also a cheesy movie...what would Ebert say? I am going to buy this book now.
Oh, and on Skirt and the Fiddle - this just in. Has nothing to do with the brilliant violinist being a brilliant violinist. The guy carries a fiddle in the first chapter en route to a gig and there are a few tantalizing hints of a violinistic soul, but after chapter one (meaning, page 11), bye bye violin. Forget it. Dust jacket book descriptions can be tricky. Good thing it was only a library book.
Hey! Great sleuthing work today. Boy. : )
Amazon doesn't even have a descrip of the book, tho. Wonder if my library system has it in their database? Off to check.
Ha ha ha, I haven't thought of that movie in decades, and yet when you said it, it sprang right to mind. Just like you described. Shirley Maclaine, right?
Oh, and Karin - off topic: did you see they announced the line-up for SFS '07-'08 season? Josh is absent! OMG! But Gil is there, thank goodness. He is currently ranking the highest on my worship list. Haven't looked over the whole season - will be fun to do so when I have a few minutes free.
Jilly Cooper's Appassionata is an absolutely unmissable read, as are the other music-oriented books in her interminable (and very readable) series. Let's see - The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous features an evil conductor and hilarious soprano, and Score has all the characters from Appassionata and more. Pulpy, raunchy, hilarious and wonderful in every way.
"The Alien Corn": short story by Somerset Maugham. Little bit lofty sometimes, but a great plot.
Doctor Faustus (Thomas Mann): "A work written in old age and suffused with Mann's moral despair over his country's complacent embrace of Nazism, Doctor Faustus unrelentingly details the rise and fall of Adrian Leverkühn, a gifted musician (modeled, as Mann admitted, on modernist innovator Arnold Schoenberg) who effectively sells his soul to the devil for a generation of renown as the greatest living composer."
The Cremona Violin: short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Four weeks in the trenches (Fritz Kreisler)Strange to read someone like Kreisler writing about war.
Schlafes Bruder Novel by Robert Schneider:
In the beginning of the 19th century, Johannes Elias Alder is born in a small village in the Austrian mountains. While growing up he is considered strange by the other villagers and discovers his love to music, especially to playing the organ at the local church. After experiencing an "acoustic wonder", his eye color changes and he can hear even the most subtle sounds. Elias falls in platonic love with Elsbeth, the sister of Peter, a neighbor's son, who has loving feelings towards Elias ever since. After Elsbeth marries someone else, Elias (aged 22) decides to end his life by not sleeping anymore.
The movie is quite bad, but the book was a sensation, when it became published.
Biography of G. Piatigorsky One of the greatest cellists of any time, Piatigorsky relates the state of music as seen by a poor peasant in Russia whos only gift was his great talent. He had to survive the Russian Revolution, escape to the west, and survive in post WW 1 Germany seeking a career. He was befriended by Artur Schnabel, Jascha Heifetz and became official first cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic under Furtwaengler. He turned soloist and migrated to the United States with Valadimir Horowitz and Milstein.
... and finally some junk. =)
The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
I thought that was one book that could have used a CD with the music as and when it is played in the novel. Publisher/author, are you reading this?
And if you have read those two, you might like to read an account of the 2 years Vikram Seth spent as a student travelling in China & going home via Tibet entitled "From Heaven's Lake". It proves that music may even get you past beauracracy! (Read the book, I am not giving anything away.)
I really, really like "Dvorak in Love" by Josef Skvorecky, which is not strictly a novel with violins, but is good.
Wayne, I agree about "Song of the Lark", and Cather actually "gets" it.
Terez, when are you going to release your novel?
Also I enthusiastically endorse "Dvork in Love".
"The Fountain Overflows" short changes in talent the older sister violinist in favor of her two very talented younger sister pianists - but a very good read.
Anne - my own novel is currently in revision mode. It made the rounds in December to a dozen agents and I got some great feedback on how to make the story stronger. Ironically, I'd been so concerned the violinist (one of three narrators/protagonists) might not be seen as a marketable enough character when compared to the other two protags, but she's the only one all the agents agreed was the strongest part of the novel. So, now I'm at work, building up the other two characters' stories and backstories. (No surprise, really. I researched and wrote 10x as much for my violinist, then had to distill it down to size to match the other parts of the story. No wonder it read the best.)
Also, another book not mentioned yet is Helen Kopec's brilliantly funny "Notes From The Pit". ISBN 0-9728722-0-5. The based-on-true-life story is about a cellist, but that is OK. Not everyone is fortunate enough to play violin...
Also you can read it online at:
Time to go order more of these...
That's it - I'm trying this book again. (Couldn't get into it. I admit it, I'm classics-illiterate.)
Terez, if you are re-reading "My Antonia", read "O Pioneers" as a companion piece.
I finished "Overture". I am looking forward to "Spring Sonata", which should get here next week...
I can heartily recommend anything by Cather. Especially "Death Comes for the Archbishop" and "Shadows on the Rock".
All right, then. Done. Requested from the library. And I chanced upon a wonderful genre on the online catalogue: musical fiction. Cool! Wonder if it will pull up all books in that category? Must bug the reference librarian about this when I work on Monday (fortuitously, at a library).
Oh... so many books, so little time!
Another one for you to tryis The Fiddler and the Ferret by Douglas Boyd - concert violinist gets embroiled in art theft conspiracy. Not bad!
I'm thinking I will most decidedly have to compile all these wonderful suggestions into a reading list and post it over at the forums. Blogs get buried.
Thanks, everyone, for all of this!
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