Maybe we musicians are just too particular, but have you noticed, as I have, that even the best writers of fiction have trouble creating believable prose about music and musicians? Especially about classical musicians? Perhaps because we have our own ‘lingo’ which is easy to get just a little bit wrong. Or maybe it’s because the world of the classical musician is difficult to translate, by someone who’s not part of it.
Fortunately, there are some notable exceptions. One of the best writers about music (and musicians) is the Canadian author Robertson Davies. In his professional life he was deeply involved in the world of music (he wrote an opera libretto, among other musical projects); and when music is a big part of his novels, he makes things utterly believable. The two outstanding examples are A Mixture of Frailties and The Lyre of Orpheus.
Vikram Seth gets a B+ from me for An Equal Music. He produces a compelling description of the life of a professional violinist; though I find the premise of a pianist losing her hearing but still able to successfully perform Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet a little sketchy.
If you want to combine a fascinating musical story and outstanding historical fiction, you can’t do better than Music & Silence by Rose Tremain.
Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann contains a wonderful passage where the character of Wendell Kretschmar gives an inspired lecture on Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Op. 111. I confess to having been inspired by this fictional creation to improve my own lectures! And E. M. Forster’s description in Howard’s End of the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony stays in your mind for a long time: “the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end…”
Among more recent authors to have successfully tackled the “music and musicians” quandary , I must commend Erin Frances Fisher: a pianist herself, a former student of mine and then a colleague at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Read “Da Capo al Fine” in her remarkable 2018 collection That Tiny Life — and then read all her other stories, too.