When we pick up a book, we wander off the beaten track and explore the world created by an author. Nothing is more satisfying than getting lost in a story where you're swimming in the depths of languid waters, fighting dragons in an intense battle, or finding love in the most peculiar place. Here are four of the many cases where composers have taken inspiration from literature — and one instance where an author returned the favor.
Eine Faust Symphonie by Franz Liszt
Liszt's Faust Symphony is technically three character studies, from Goethe's drama of the same name, rather than a traditional symphony. The tale is about Johann Faustus, a man who makes a pact with the devil in order to have all his desires satisfied — at the cost of his soul. Eventually Faust falls in love with Gretchen and their love saves his soul. The movements of the symphony portray the three characters mentioned: I. Faust, II. Gretchen, and III. Mephistopheles, with a coda adding organ, solo tenor, and men's chorus to the orchestra. The Faust movement could be a work in and of itself, totaling approximately 30 minutes, and encompassing a wide range of motives and emotions. Critic Richard Pohl identified the five motives as "passion, pride, longing, triumph, and love."
Farewell My Concubine score by Zhao Jiping
Although the score was written for the 1993 motion picture, the movie was adapted from a novel. Zhao Jiping, a director at the Shenxi Drama and Dance Troupe in China, wrote and arranged some Chinese operatic excerpts for this dramatic soundtrack. Not all the pieces were fully developed; if they had been, multiple soundtracks would have been required. Each sample song's purpose was to depict a particular dramatic scene, with opera as the backdrop.
The Lord of the Rings Symphony by Johan de Meij
Howard Shore's score for Peter Jackson's film adaptations has become the most recognizable music associated with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but de Meij's 1988 symphony has been a staple of the music world for much longer. The delightful final movement evoking Hobbits, with its rustic theme telescoped into an Elgarian processional for the work's climax, perfectly captures the noble, very English character of Tolkien's most famous creations. Indeed, in many ways this forty-five minute symphony captures the intimacy and warmth that many felt was missing from New Line's larger-than-life film versions.
Atonement score by Dario Marianelli
In Ian McEwan's 2001 novel, his writing is lavish and lush, and every word has a strong sense of melancholy. Marianelli's score for Joe Wright's 2007 film adaptation is an absolutely gorgeous complement. There are no conventional percussion cues in Marianelli's pieces; instead, he uses the rhythm of a typewriter and classical strings to imbue a sense of foreboding. The highlight of the score, "Elegy for Dunkirk," strongly evokes the novel's WWII setting. If you like beautiful, innovative music in a different vein from most blaring brass scores, this one tells a love story you can hear the soul of without having to read one word.
Years of Pilgrimage suite by Franz Liszt
Haruki Murakami's latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, is centered around Liszt's Years of Pilgrimage suite. Murakami often integrates music into his writing, and has estimated that he owns 10,000 records — but says he was afraid to count. Murakami has referred to pop and jazz music, but in this case takes inspiration from one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era.
Youa Vang is appreciative of all genres of music — even country. When not writing about music, she can be found working on her standup comedy and cross-stitching mischievous sayings while watching The Simpsons.
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