6 Ways Literature Has Inspired Composers

In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.


Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables, Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame each captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.

Orchestral Works

As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.


Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?


Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!


What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Film Scores

Last, but certainly not least, literature has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in the “book-to-movie” film scores we listen to today. This just might be my favorite form of literary influence on music; it’s always so exciting to see a movie recreation of one of your favorite books complete with costuming, scenery, and a beautiful soundtrack. To name just a few books that have inspired recent film scores, theres’ the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Hobbit, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

The artwork featured on our blog was
provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.

You can find a Spotify playlist with the songs mentioned in 
our post below. We hope you enjoy the music collection!

5 Back-To-School Reads

Alright y’all, it’s that time of year again. Our last days of summer are fast approaching, and for many of us that means we are busy with back-to-school preparation. But amidst all the hustle and bustle of getting ready to hit the books (and the coffee) again, I’m a firm believer you can still find time to read. So, here are some great back-to-school reads that will help your summer go out with a bang. Or, you know, with a book.

A Time to Kill—John Grisham. An oldie, but, a goodie. If you’re a person who needs a little drama, a little thrill, added to your last days of summer, look no further than this classic courtroom thriller. Grisham tells an exceedingly powerful, yet exciting, story that takes place in Clanton, a small Mississippi town in the 90s. Lawyer Jake Brigance (said to be based off of ex-lawyer John Grisham himself) comes face to face with racism and hatred as he fights to save his client’s life. Coming in at a little over 500 pages, don’t let the page count intimidate you. Grisham’s brilliant story telling made each page read more quickly than the next.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine—Gail Honeyman. For those of you who may be dreading long nights of studying coming around again, don’t hesitate to pick up this book which will, without a doubt, restore your faith in humanity, goodness, friendship, and healing. Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky, blunt, and extremely socially awkward woman. Her life is ordered, exact, and (she thinks) completely fine. But as she spends more time with her coworker, the IT guy Raymond, she comes to discover maybe life isn’t supposed to just be fine—it’s meant to be a whole lot more. Let Honeyman take your hand as you dive into this book, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself rediscovering what it means to live again right along with Eleanor.

The Accidental Empress—Allison Pataki. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there’s any better way to ease yourself back into academics than with some phenomenal historical fiction. The story of the Austrian empress—known by her nickname Sisi—is not a widely taught one. Before picking up this book, I had no idea what the Austrian empire was like, how Sisi could be an “accidental” empress, and what exactly that entailed for her life. Pataki paints a both fascinating and informative world, one that will leave readers wanting to read on and on about the beloved empress Sisi.

Can You Keep a Secret?—Sophie Kinsella. For our returning readers, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I’ve included a Sophie Kinsella book on this list. What can I say? She’s hilarious, relatable, and I adore her books—this one being no exception. Emma Corrigan has got to be one of my favorite Kinsella heroins yet. On a particularly scary plane ride home, Emma ends up spilling her darkest (and most embarrassing) secrets with the handsome stranger sitting next to her. Who, come Monday, she discovers is the founder of the entire company she works at. The odds? Next to none. The result? Absolutely priceless. This book is perfect for getting some good laughs in before you start crying into your morning latte on your way to calc. #college

On the Rocks—Erin Duffy. Want a way to relive your best days of summer? Without further ado, I introduce you to Duffy’s adorable, light-hearted, and undoubtedly funny summer novel. After Abby Wilkes’ life takes a rather unexpected turn (dumped by her fiancé via Facebook relationship status), her girlfriends get her out to the beautiful beaches of Newport, Rhode Island for some rest, relaxation, and—they’re hoping—romance. But as the summer goes on, after many dates and many drinks, Abby begins to discover that maybe romance isn’t the key to her happiness—perhaps it could really be as simple as discovering herself. Bound to make you laugh and cringe right alongside Abby, there’s no better book to wrap up the season of crazy summer nights with.

6 Best Movies that Began As Books

There is no way around it: there are some books that are just completely butchered as movies. And it. is. so. painful. I would argue, almost nothing is worse for a literary junkie. However, we don’t like to focus on the bad things here at Spellbinding Shelf, hence why I decided to bring you my list of the “6 Best Movies that Began As Books.” So for those of you who may need your faith restored in the cinematic world, fear not—I have the solutions right here.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien. If this wasn’t first on the list, I think I could be put in literary jail. Putting myself in Peter Jackson’s shoes, I’m still in awe that he was not only able to undertake such a massive project like this (dealing with a literary legend), but turn it into a cinematic masterpiece as well. While a few of our favorite characters may not have made it to the screen in this iconic trilogy (Tom Bombadil anyone?), there is no doubt that Peter Jackson brought Tolkien’s magnificent world to life in the most fulfilling way.

Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Bless all of the memes that came from this wonderful line of dialogue from the first book in Rowling’s seven part series. Spanning nearly a decade of filming, numerous directors, and (sadly) two Dumbledores, the screen adaptation of Rowling’s iconic series is—without a doubt—a cinematic masterpiece. With each of Rowling’s characters brought perfectly to life through incredible acting, there is no debate that the Harry Potter movie series is every inch as magical as us Potterheads could ever hope for.

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green. If you try to tell me that Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley’s performance as Hazel and Augustus wasn’t sheer perfection, I call foul, sir. Originally winning the reader’s heart on the page, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars continued to break our hearts in the most wonderful way as it made its screen debut. With incredibly raw and emotionally-captivating performances by everyone on screen, The Fault In Our Stars remains one of my favorite book-to-movie creations.

The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks. Name one person who doesn’t love this movie. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Don’t worry, I can’t think of anyone either. Each time I watch this movie, I am still so overcome by the incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as they so poignantly bring Noah and Ally to life. With a love story so ridiculous, crazy, and beautiful, the screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook perfectly captures every emotion we as readers felt on the page.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. Okay, to be fair, it was a musical long before it was brought to life on screen in 2012, but I say: mere technicality! It’s a movie now. As a viewer, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first found out Les Mis was going to be a movie. Could they capture the vulnerability that Hugo left on the pages and numerous stars had left on stages around the world? Spoiler alert: heck. yes. Boasting some of (what I think to be) the most magnificent performances to have ever graced the silver screen, Les Miserables is a movie that does not disappoint its OG readers.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. And of course, my dear Pride and Prejudice. Did I choose this merely because of Keira Knightley? No, but, if I did, would that really be so bad? Though the movie version may not have Colin Firth in it (*sigh*), watching Jane Austen’s most iconic work come to life on screen is an unforgettable experience. So for any of my classics lovers, if you haven’t already seen the movie, my advice is this: hunker with a bottle of wine, your best friends, and your Mr. Darcy daydreams. It will not disappoint.