11 Musical Novels That Hit All The Right Notes

September 1 2015
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As a rule, printed words stay on the page and music stays in the air. But every once in a while you come across a truly gifted writer who can make their sentences sing. Experience some of that magic with these eleven books that take classical music as their inspiration.

Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel is set somewhere in South America at a birthday party hosted by the country’s vice president. Rozanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has just finished a mesmerizing performance when a band of terrorists breaks into the house and holds everyone for ransom. Salon calls Bel Canto “a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us.” OTS calls it “the most elegant, meditative hostage-takeover novel ever.”

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Bel Canto
Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel is set somewhere in South America at a birthday party hosted by the country’s vice president. Rozanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has just finished a mesmerizing performance when a band of terrorists breaks into the house and holds everyone for ransom. Salon calls Bel Canto “a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us.” OTS calls it “the most elegant, meditative hostage-takeover novel ever.”

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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Nocturnes
by Kazuo Ishiguro

In this inspired quintet, literary virtuoso Kazuo Ishiguro interlocks the stories of five individuals who find both solace and heartbreak in music. Haunting and reflective, it showcases the persistent influence of music, even as all else fades into twilight.

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Nocturnes
Kazuo Ishiguro

In this inspired quintet, literary virtuoso Kazuo Ishiguro interlocks the stories of five individuals who find both solace and heartbreak in music. Haunting and reflective, it showcases the persistent influence of music, even as all else fades into twilight.

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Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell

In a narrative that traverses centuries and space, David Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky. It is a daring exploration of reality and identity.

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Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell

In a narrative that traverses centuries and space, David Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky. It is a daring exploration of reality and identity.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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The Song of the Lark
by Willa Cather

A young singer’s artistic awakening comes at the expense of losing the only life she has ever known. Bittersweet and evocative, Willa Cather’s masterpiece explores the loss that ultimately accompanies an artist’s highest achievements, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
The Song of the Lark
Willa Cather

A young singer’s artistic awakening comes at the expense of losing the only life she has ever known. Bittersweet and evocative, Willa Cather’s masterpiece explores the loss that ultimately accompanies an artist’s highest achievements, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Amsterdam
by Ian McEwan

When a renowned composer and a newspaper editor reconnect at the funeral of a shared former lover, they make a pact with consequences that neither of them could ever have foreseen. Sharply witty and morally complex, this Man Booker Award–winning novel is a biting social satire about the justifications people make in the name of business, politics, and art.

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Amsterdam
Ian McEwan

When a renowned composer and a newspaper editor reconnect at the funeral of a shared former lover, they make a pact with consequences that neither of them could ever have foreseen. Sharply witty and morally complex, this Man Booker Award–winning novel is a biting social satire about the justifications people make in the name of business, politics, and art.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Dancer
by Colum McCann

Spanning four decades and divergent worlds, this is the erotically charged story of the renowned Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. This historically inspired novel charts the extreme perfectionism and willful hedonism that drove the ballet star’s all-consuming artistic greatness, and reminds us that the thrill of the stage is both a curse and a redemption.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
Dancer
Colum McCann

Spanning four decades and divergent worlds, this is the erotically charged story of the renowned Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. This historically inspired novel charts the extreme perfectionism and willful hedonism that drove the ballet star’s all-consuming artistic greatness, and reminds us that the thrill of the stage is both a curse and a redemption.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Orfeo
by Richard Powers

A talented composer finds himself on the run from Homeland Security when his home experiments attempting to embed music in genetic patterns get him labeled the “Bioterrorist Bach.” This creative and cerebral novel reaches a soaring crescendo when the musical fugitive dreams up a plan to turn his collision with the security state into a transformative work of art. The author’s website features a playlist of classical masterpieces relevant to the book—it’s well worth plugging in your headphones before you turn to the first page.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
Orfeo
Richard Powers

A talented composer finds himself on the run from Homeland Security when his home experiments attempting to embed music in genetic patterns get him labeled the “Bioterrorist Bach.” This creative and cerebral novel reaches a soaring crescendo when the musical fugitive dreams up a plan to turn his collision with the security state into a transformative work of art. The author’s website features a playlist of classical masterpieces relevant to the book—it’s well worth plugging in your headphones before you turn to the first page.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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The Metropolis Case
by Matthew Gallaway

From 1860s Paris to twenty-first-century New York, an unlikely cast of characters is bound together across centuries and continents by the strange and spectacular history of Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Tristan and Isolde. It is a beautiful tribute to the unparalleled ability of music to satisfy the yearnings of the human heart.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
The Metropolis Case
Matthew Gallaway

From 1860s Paris to twenty-first-century New York, an unlikely cast of characters is bound together across centuries and continents by the strange and spectacular history of Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Tristan and Isolde. It is a beautiful tribute to the unparalleled ability of music to satisfy the yearnings of the human heart.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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The Cellist of Sarajevo
by Steven Galloway

From his window in Sarajevo, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors killed by a mortar attack. He decides to honor their memory in the only way he knows how: through music. As he plays his cello at the point of impact for twenty-two days, more and more people are drawn into his musical orbit, revealing the small ways humanity can triumph even in the darkest of times.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Steven Galloway

From his window in Sarajevo, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors killed by a mortar attack. He decides to honor their memory in the only way he knows how: through music. As he plays his cello at the point of impact for twenty-two days, more and more people are drawn into his musical orbit, revealing the small ways humanity can triumph even in the darkest of times.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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By Off the Shelf Staff | July 27, 2021

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The Piano Tuner
by Daniel Mason

In 1886, a piano tuner receives an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma to repair a rare piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon. What follows is an atmospheric journey into a world of loneliness, seduction, and quiet intrigue.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
The Piano Tuner
Daniel Mason

In 1886, a piano tuner receives an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma to repair a rare piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon. What follows is an atmospheric journey into a world of loneliness, seduction, and quiet intrigue.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

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Close
Coming Through Slaughter
by Michael Ondaatje

In this fictionalized account of one of the fathers of jazz, a trumpet maestro slowly gives in to his demons against the colorful backdrop of New Orleans in the Roaring Twenties. Insanity and genius become hauntingly intertwined in this darkly beautiful meditation on what it means to give everything to your art.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo
Coming Through Slaughter
Michael Ondaatje

In this fictionalized account of one of the fathers of jazz, a trumpet maestro slowly gives in to his demons against the colorful backdrop of New Orleans in the Roaring Twenties. Insanity and genius become hauntingly intertwined in this darkly beautiful meditation on what it means to give everything to your art.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Editors Recommend: 10 Sizzling Reads for the Summer

By Off the Shelf Staff | July 27, 2021

10 Crowd-Pleasing Books That Are Easy to Love

By Chris Gaudio | July 26, 2021

9 Mesmerizing Books for Fans of All the Light We Cannot See

By Emily Lewis | July 22, 2021

5 Reasons I Moved Fredrik Backman to the Top of My TBR Pile

By Holly Claytor | July 21, 2021

Small Towns, Big Secrets: 7 Gripping Novels Rife with Scandal

By Anna Bailey | July 20, 2021

10 Debut Novels Making a Splash This Summer

By Alice Martin | July 19, 2021

Close

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