Top Ten Literary Music

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  The blog hop features lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to connect with bloggers who love the books you do.


This week’s top ten is all about books and music. That should be easy for me, since I’m an avid reader, author — and a symphonic musician.

I play the oboe, and I squeeze in mentions of the oboe whenever I can in my own books. Here are a few of the pieces of music I’ve played in orchestras or bands, inspired by literature.

Candide, by Voltaire

This strange little book is perhaps the most cynical tale I’ve ever read–yet it has an optimistic ending. I recommend the book–and the operetta of the same name by Leonard Bernstein.

As it happens, I’m playing the Candide Suite with the Arizona Symphonic Winds next month.

Hansel and Gretel, by the Brothers Grimm

A fairy tale as literature? Close enough for a Top Ten List!

The tale inspired an opera by Engelbert Humperdinck–not the pop singer of a few decades ago, but a German composer who is known solely for this one piece of music. A one-hit wonder, you might say.

I first played this overture with the Okanagan Symphony many years ago, and I’ve also played it recently with the Civic Orchestra of Tucson. Fun piece, very reminiscent of Wagner in places.

Pelleas and Melisande, by Maurice Maeterlinck

Okay, okay; I know this play is pretty obscure.  However, a hundred-odd years ago, it was all the rage, and it inspired some of the greatest stage music of its era. Debussy used it for his only opera. Sibelius, Schoenberg, and Faure all wrote incidental music for stage performances — the movie music of a different age.

Here’s Faure’s  Spinning Song in a poor recording that doesn’t do justice to the marvelous (ahem!) oboe playing of yours truly.

The orchestra performed this piece in an outdoor bandshell and not a recording studio, which explains the less-than-professional sound quality. This is the only recording here on which I play, BTW.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Shakespeare

This is my favorite Shakespearean comedy. I’m afraid that’s not saying much, because I don’t care for his comedies. A couple years ago, my wife and I saw a great performance at Stratford — the one in Ontario, famous these days as Justin Bieber’s hometown.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote a great overture for this play when he was just 17. That is very impressive. Also disgusting. I’m jealous.

I’ve played this piece in at least three different orchestras, starting with the University of Chicago Symphony. I say at least because it’s such a common piece that I may have forgotten a performance or two.

Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare

‘Nuff said — everybody knows Romeo and Juliet. It has inspired more music than any other play that I’m aware of.  Here’s a selection from a ballet by my favorite composer, Prokofiev.

When I was with the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, we played selections from this ballet.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

The books inspired the movies, which inspired some interesting music by probably the greatest movie composer of our time, John Williams. The Harry Potter music isn’t his greatest, but it’s still pretty evocative.

The Civic Orchestra of Tucson has run through this piece a few times, though we haven’t played it in a performance.

<<  ===  >>

I could go on and on, because great literature has always inspired great music and because I’ve been playing in orchestras most of my life.  I could, but I won’t.

Be sure to check out fascinating top tens by other bloggers.



  1. I love your take on this theme! Beautiful selections!

    1. A ton of great music has been written about books, that’s for sure.

  2. I really enjoyed the Midsummer Night’s dream performance. Nice that you were able to put a personal touch on this weeks’ topic.

    1. This topic is tailor-made for my interests. Books and music pretty much sum up my hobbies.

  3. Great picks! Very refreshing list. I can’t leave without mentioning Harry Potter and Hedwig’s Theme. 🙂

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

    1. IMHO, Hedwig’s Theme is the best of Williams’ Potter music.

  4. Music about books combines two great things. Love this list!

    1. I agree completely, Caitlin.

  5. YES to Harry Potter! i own all the soundtracks to the movies! love it!

    1. Some of the best music being written today comes from movies. The obvious reason: that’s where the money is, and even artists follow the money.

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