The best historical fiction about classical musicians; including people who "sold their souls to the devil"

Why am I passionate about this?

My doctorate is in music, and although I am now more active as a composer, I was at one time a performer (pianist). Thus, I have both personal ties to the author (my mother) and professional insights into the subject matter. I have also interviewed a number of the world’s leading violinists (Bell, Chase, Markov, Zukerman, and others) and composed two works for the instrument (my Op. 4 and Op. 5, published by Broadbent & Dunn). Moreover, my series, The Passion of Elena Bianchi, also involves classical music and musicians, and echoes Paganini Agitato with concerts, poker, the great love of a child, and elements of the supernatural and/or demonic.

I edited...

Paganini Agitato

By Ann Abelson, Lenny Cavallaro,

Book cover of Paganini Agitato

What is my book about?

Niccolò Paganini was probably the most influential violinist of all time. A great celebrity, he earned a fortune but also became the subject of a dark rumor: that to play as he did and compose the music he had written, he must have sold his soul to the Devil. How else could anyone explain the feats of virtuosity and unprecedented challenges of music that Europe had never before heard?

Addicted to vice and beset by poor health, Paganini clearly paid a high price. His gambling losses were legendary. A notorious rake, he was nevertheless unable to know a woman's love. Moreover, in Paganini Agitato, Niccolò does indeed make a satanic pact. Will the love he feels for his son be enough to save him?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Amadeus: A Play by Peter Shaffer

Lenny Cavallaro Why did I love this book?

Of course, the entire notion of a ferocious enmity between Mozart and Salieri is fiction. They were actually friends and once even collaborated on a short cantata, Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia [On the Recovery of the Health of Ofelia].

However, the story is a marvelous conception, seasoned by the central idea that the envious Salieri somehow ruined Mozart and drove him to his death (from overwork — also quite fictitious!). It truly “works” literarily. The play goes even further, accentuating the overbearing political influence of Italian musicians in the court.

I recommend the script of the play (from which the movie derived) so that the reader can get an even deeper appreciation for Salieri’s villainous character—and I can also recommend the award-winning movie!

By Peter Shaffer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Amadeus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

0riginating at the National Theatre of Great Britain, Amadeus was the recipient of both the Evening Standard Drama Award and the Theatre Critics Award. In the United States, the play won the coveted Tony Award and went on to become a critically acclaimed major motion picture winning eight Oscars, including Best Picture.

Now, this extraordinary work about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is available with a new preface by Peter Shaffer and a new introduction by the director of the 1998 Broadway revival, Sir Peter Hall. Amadeus is a must-have for classical music buffs, theatre lovers, and aficionados of…

Book cover of Faust: A Tragedy, Parts One and Two

Lenny Cavallaro Why did I love this book?

I cannot reasonably recommend Part Two without Part One. If we look at all the ghastly sins with which the eponymous hero has been involved by the end of that first drama, it seems inconceivable that he can possibly be redeemed.

Nevertheless, we have Goethe’s Part Two, completed twenty-four years after the earlier play, and by its conclusion, Faust has (somehow) been saved.

In fact, I sense some echo of Part One when Angelica’s unborn baby strangles on its cord: a far milder outcome for Paganini (who sired the child) than for Faust (whose Gretchen drowns their infant and is condemned to death). However, as the readers will see, Paganini truly loves the son he begets some years later.

By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Martin Greenberg (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Faust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Greenberg has accomplished a magnificent literary feat. He has taken a great German work, until now all but inaccessible to English readers, and made it into a sparkling English poem, full of verve and wit. Greenberg's translation lives; it is done in a modern idiom but with respect for the original text; I found it a joy to read."-Irving Howe (on the earlier edition)

A classic of world literature, Goethe's Faust is a philosophical and poetic drama full of satire, irony, humor, and tragedy. Martin Greenberg re-creates not only the text's varied meter and rhyme but also its diverse tones…

Book cover of Beethoven In Love; Opus 139: Concerto Quasi Una Fantasia

Lenny Cavallaro Why did I love this book?

In fairness, I read this book hoping for insights into the identity of Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” a mystery it certainly does not resolve. However, many other aspects make the book worthwhile reading, notwithstanding the large historical liberties the author takes.

Smith’s Beethoven has been unable to appreciate the love so many have had for him. Who better to enlighten him than Napoleon, to whom he originally dedicated his third symphony (“Eroica”), only to scratch out the dedication and write instead, “to the memory of a great man”? What better vehicles than powerful, dream-like scenes (since in a sense, the whole book is a deathbed dream)?

Above all, whether the author has used fantasies, ghosts, or spirits, he has provided an interesting technique to present the supernatural events the protagonist experiences.

Book cover of Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the World's Musical Masters

Lenny Cavallaro Why did I love this book?

Paganini is not one of the composers the author discusses. However, I consider Secret Lives an important book, simply because it “spills the beans” about a number of these giants.

Gioachino Rossini is portrayed with some of his numerous shortcomings (though Paganini’s dalliances achieved far more notoriety). I shall mention a few significant historical facts: (1) he and Paganini were very close friends, (2) Paganini wrote a set of brilliant variations, I Palpiti, based on an aria from Rossini’s opera, Tancredi, and (3) Paganini did indeed conduct the debut of another Rossini opera, Matilde di Shobran.

Secret Lives was also a source I tapped for some of the information I presented about composers (including, most notably, Richard Wagner)  in one of my own novels.

By Elizabeth Lunday, Mario Zucca (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secret Lives of Great Composers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the fine tradition of "Secret Lives of Great Authors" and "Secret Lives of Great Artists" comes the latest entry in Quirk's successful series: "Secret Lives of Great Composers". You've heard their scores in countless movies, from "Fantasia" to "Apocalypse Now" - now get the skinny on their tumultuous lives, loves, and lunacy. You'll learn that Frederic Chopin had his heart removed before burial, due to his grave fear of being buried alive. Sergei Rachmaninoff hated the sound of his own music and despised performing it. Gustav Mahler was rarely invited to dinner parties because he would eat nothing but…

Book cover of Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music

Lenny Cavallaro Why did I love this book?

I suspect I’ll raise a few eyebrows with this recommendation, notwithstanding the Amazon series it spawned (which ran for four seasons).

The book was not uniformly applauded, and it is difficult to know how accurate certain details are, given Tindall’s use of more than thirty pseudonyms and numerous denials from people she named. However, the prevalence of sex, drugs, and power politics in classical music is a harsh, ugly fact.

Classical musicians often misbehave, and if even those struggling for orchestral positions are guilty, how much worse might it be with the superstars? Obviously, I am thinking about Niccolò Paganini, but readers should also consider recent scandalous allegations against Placido Domingo and the late James Levine.

By Blair Tindall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mozart in the Jungle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave, Mozart in the Jungle delves into the lives of the musicians and conductors who inhabit the insular world of classical music. In a book that inspired the Amazon Original series starring Gael García Bernal and Malcolm McDowell, oboist Blair Tindall recounts her decades-long professional career as a classical musician—from the recitals and Broadway orchestra performances to the secret life of musicians who survive hand to mouth in the backbiting New York classical music scene, where musicians trade sexual favors for plum jobs and assignments in…

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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

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