Ben Whishaw plays the composer Robert Frobisher in the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” one of many titles that friends, colleagues and readers named as successful fictional forays into the world of classical music. (Photo: Reiner Bajo / Warner Brothers.)

Recently, in response to my review of Julian Barnes’s Shostakovich novel “The Noise of Time” (which I didn’t care for), a reader asked in the comments section what works of fiction DID do a good job with classical music. He nominated Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music.”

My response, off the top of my head: Thomas Mann’s “Doktor Faustus,” James McCourt’s “Mawrdew Czgowchwz,” and Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark.” I also mentioned passages in E.M. Forster (Howard’s End) and Dawn Powell.

But this is much too good a question to be answered by only one or two people, and unfortunately the comments section on that review closed before many people could weigh in. I therefore re-posted the question on social media, and got back a veritable flood of titles: short stories and novels, popular fiction and Nobel Prize-winners, and many books I’d never even heard of.

So here you go: your summer fiction reading list, suggested and annotated by several dozen people. I’ve tried to divide the titles into two categories: works that are about music and musicians, and works that include notable descriptions or scenes of music — but I haven’t read all of these books by any means, and I may have made some errors of categorization. And in the spirit of fairness, I included two books I don’t think actually make the cut: Barnes’s “Noise of Time,” and “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett. They may do it for someone else.

How many of these have you read? And what do you think should be added?

[Alex Ross wrote an engaging piece on fictional composers in the New Yorker in 2009: Imaginary Concerts.

Works of fiction that are in some sense or part about music or musicians:

Kingsley Amis: “Girl, 20

Honore de Balzac: “Gambara” (short story)
“Sarrasine” (novella)

Julian Barnes: “The Noise of Time”
“Harmony” (short story)
“Vigilance” (short story)

Saul Bellow: “Him with his foot in his mouth” (short story)

Thomas Bernhard: “The Loser”

Anthony Burgess: “Napoleon Symphony

James M. Cain: “Career in C Major” (short story)

Joseph Caldwell: “The Uncle from Rome”

Bo Carpelan: “Axel

Alejo Carpentier: “The Lost Steps
      “About a composer who sojourns with a primitive tribe in the Amazon jungle and finds his musical
                      voice.” (Benjamin Yarmolinsky)

Willa Cather: “The Song of the Lark”
“A Wagner Matinee” (short story: http://cather.unl.edu/ss011.html)

Kate Chopin: “The Awakening”

Frank Conroy: “Body and Soul

Marcia Davenport: “Of Lena Geyer”

Robertson Davies: “A Mixture of Frailties”
“The Lyre of Orpheus”
“The Rebel Angels”

Thomas M. Disch: “On Wings of Song

Rita Dove: “Sonata Mulattica

Jessica Duchen: “Alicia’s Gift

Jean Echenoz: “Ravel
“The best adaptation of ‘classical’ music in fiction I know.” (Simon Morrison)

Robert Ford: “The Student Conductor

Janice Galloway: “Clara”

Steven Galloway: “The Cellist of Sarajevo”

Nikolai Grozni: “Wunderkind

James Hamilton-Paterson: “Gerontius
“An exquisitely moving portrait of Elgar at the end of his life.” (Joshua Kosman)

Herrmann Hesse: “The Glass Bead Game”


A (self-portrait of Johannes Kreisler, the fictional composer who was E. T. A. Hoffmann’s alter ego.)

E. T. A. Hoffmann: “Kreisleriana”
“Johannes Kreisler, des Kapellmeisters musikalische Leiden”
“The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr together with a  fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister
Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper”

Kazuo Ishiguro: “The Unconsoled”
“Nocturnes” (short stories)

J. D. Landis: “Longing

Norman Lebrecht: “The Song of Names

Donna Leon: “The Jewels of Paradise”

Thomas Mann: “Doktor Faustus”
“Tristan” (short story)
“The Blood of the Walsungs” (short story)

James McCourt: “Mawrdew Czgowchwz

Ian McEwen: “Amsterdam”

Brown Meggs: “Aria

Sean Michaels: “Us Conductors

David Mitchell: “Cloud Atlas” (the composers’ section is based on Frederick Delius and Eric Fenby)

Alice Munro: “Dance of the Happy Shades” (short story), others.

Cory Oldweiler: “Testimony of the Senses

Conrad L. Osborne: “O, Paradiso

Ann Patchett: “Bel canto”

[In which I outline my reservations about “Bel Canto:" Opera divas, on the stage and on the page.]

Richard Powers: “The Time of Our Singing” (the one title most often mentioned)
Orfeo
The Gold Bug Variations
“In some ways his most startling writing on music.” (David Froom)

Terry Pratchett: “Maskerade

Sarah Quigley: “The Conductor

Anne Rice: “Cry to Heaven

Kim Stanley Robinson: “The Memory of Whiteness


An early edition of “Jean Christophe” by Romain Rolland, who won the Nobel Prize in 1915.

Romain Rolland: “Jean Christophe

Carter Scholz: “The Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven and Other Lost Songs” (short story)
“The Johann Sebastian Bach Memorial Barbecue and Nervous Breakdown” (short story)

Lynne Sharon Schwartz: “Two-Part Inventions

Vikram Seth: “An Equal Music

Nathan Shaham: “The Rosendorf Quartet

Josef Skvorecky: “Dvorak in Love: A Light-Hearted Dream

Wesley Stace: “Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer

Leo Tolstoy: “The Kreutzer Sonata” (short story)

Rose Tremain: “Music and Silence
The Gustav Sonatais scheduled for publication later in 2016

William T. Vollmann: “Europe Central

Jiri Weil: “Mendelssohn is on the Roof

Rebecca West: “The Fountain Overflows

A.N. Wilson: “Winnie and Wolf

Works of fiction containing notable musical scenes/descriptions:

Kingsley Amis: “Lucky Jim”

Patrick O’Brian: The Aubrey-Maturin series

Julio Cortazar: “Hopscotch”
          “There is a new music piano recital scene that is brutally satirical and scarily convincing.” (Isaac
            Schankler)


Helena Bonham Carter listens to a concert in the film adaptation of E. M. Forster’s “Howards End.” (Photo: BFI)

E. M. Forster: “Howards End”
“Where Angels Fear to Tread”

Aldous Huxley: “Point Counter Point”

Randall Jarrell: “Pictures from an Institution”
“All the talk of music, from Mozart to Berg, is wonderful” (Alastair Macaulay)

James Joyce: “Sirens” episode in “Ulysses,” among others.

Jonathan Lethem: “Gun, with Occasional Music.”

Thomas Mann: “The Magic Mountain”
“Buddenbrooks”
“Death in Venice” (in the novella, Aschenbach is a writer; he became a composer in the Visconti film)

Dawn Powell: “Turn, Magic Wheel”

Marcel Proust: “A la recherche de temps perdu”

Artur Schnitzler: “The Way into the Open”
“Some wonderful passages from the perspective of a conductor” (Richard Bratby)

William Styron: “Sophie’s Choice”
   “Styron describes listening to Mozart’s B-flat piano concerto. Passing reference, but lovely.” (Justin
                     Davidson)

William Makepeace Thackeray: “Vanity Fair”
“Tiny fabulous references to opera” (Alastair Macaulay)

Eudora Welty: “The Golden Apples”