Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
What could be more melodic than a book which was written originally in the elegant, dulcet tones of the French dialect? Set in the nineteenth century, this great novel (both in terms of its considerable literary and cultural value, and its colossal size – a 1500 paged brute in the case of most English language unabridged versions) formulates the prized roots for the world’s longest-running hit stage musical. Bleeding with emotion, its story centres on Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who after breaking parole is hounded by the merciless policeman Javert. Despite efforts to reform, namely in his selfless adoption of the orphaned Cosette, he remains plagued by his immoral past. This captivating, passionate, tear-jerker of a story is the foundation of, without a doubt, my favourite musical. Les Mis is thus a sterling example of the inspirational powers of the written word, its enlivenment on the stage demonstrating the natural harmony between literature and music.
Music and Silence by Rose Tremain
“You know even the hens are often quiet, completely quiet, as if in a trance, when we are making our music…”
Rose Tremain’s historical novel Music and Silence, similarly draws thematically upon music in order to explore the life of King Christian IV of Denmark. Living in a constant state of vehemence and terror for his life, his country’s insolvency, and his wife’s evident infidelity, he seeks solace in music. He hires Peter Claire, an English lutenist in order to fulfil this yearning for serenity, formulating a Royal Orchestra in the freezing vault beneath his rooms at Rosenborg. Soon Peter Claire falls in love with Emilia Tilsen, a companion of the king’s wife. With his loyalties gravely divided between duty and passion, Claire struggles to find the path that will realise his hopes and save his soul. Reputed to be a novel which is subtly, but excellently true to historical fact, Tremain exposes the potential of music as restorative of order. Despite being distanced from the setting of Hugo’s Les Mis by two centuries, music remains as an impelling thematic presence, recognised for its versatility and as an emotionally expressive force within the novel.
Amy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse
Few books are more open and personal than the biographical, so when combined with the subject matter of a musical icon, you can expect an emotional voyage. On 23rd July 2011, people all over the world mourned Amy Winehouse’s tragic passing. Family, friends and fans alike grieved for an exceptionally creative, gifted and benevolent character. In this intimate and candid book, her father Mitch provides a new perspective on Amy’s life, describing the motivations that roused her unprecedented musical talents. Here he considers how she refined her unique 1960s-esque sound, her statement image, and transformed her own experiences into timeless hits. As in Music and Silence and Les Mis, music is portrayed here again as a liberating entity. For a young woman with many of her own personal battles, music became an alternative and therapeutic dimension through which to communicate.
Hell Bent For Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict by Seb Hunter
Seb Hunter grew up as a Heavy Metal aficionado. Comic, nostalgic and peppered with musical references, this self-critical memoir amuses readers with a fifteen-year misguided mission. In this coming-of-age tale, Hunter recounts the wild, erratic nature of boyhood and adolescence. He begins with the procurement of his first guitar, progressing to a portrayal his first gig, his participation in groupies, relationships, and drugs, onward to the close of this long-haired, spandex-filled era. Not only is this book a humorous, candid account of Heavy Metal Culture, but it is similarly a lurid musical journey, which is ridden with notions of nonacceptance and parental disapproval.
Words by Bethan Littley.
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