Symphony No.4 in A major Opus 90 (1) Felix Mendelssohn
From the books of Jane Austen to Carmen, great literature has often been the inspiration behind great music, as this gallery proves...
There’s probably no better adaptation of Jane Austen on film than Ang Lee’s 'Sense and Sensibility', which was adapted by - and starred - Emma Thompson. And there’s no better Jane Austen soundtrack than Patrick Doyle’s Oscar-nominated Mozartian-style score featuring delicate piano solos.
Rowling's seven, phenomenally successful fantasy novels chronicle the adventures of young wizards, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The best-selling book series in history, it has been translated into more than 70 languages, and spawned an eight-part film series which included inspired musical scores from John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat.
'One Thousand and One Nights' is a collection of folk tales compiled in Arabic, collected over many centuries across Africa. Despite detailing stories from Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore, all the stories feature the ruler Shahryār and his wife Scheherazade - a figure who inspired Rimsky-Korsakov's popular symphonic poem of the same title, composed in 1888.
Shakespeare's tragedy tells the tale of two young lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. Still among the Bard's most popular plays, it has inspired numerous pieces of music, operas and ballet. One of the best known is Prokofiev's ballet version which features the famous 'Dance of the Knights', theme to TV's 'The Apprentice'.
Narrated by Death, this best-selling book is set in Nazi Germany, a period when the narrator notes he was extremely busy. It's about a girl's relationship with a young Jewish man who hides in her home. It was filmed in 2013 with Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The touching music for the film was composed by John Williams. It was nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Original Score.
This classic fairy tale was originally written by Charles Perrault in 'Histoires ou contes du temps passé'. The story is in two parts, which became two separate tales in a version by the Brothers Grimm. The tale prompted one of Tchaikovsky's most famous ballets - 'Sleeping Beauty' or 'Спящая красавица', first performed in 1890. Photo: Marc Haegeman
First a novel, then a play, then an opera – ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ immediately captured Giuseppe Verdi's imagination and he set about putting the story to music. It became the 1853 opera ‘La Traviata’, with the novel's female protagonist Marguerite renamed as Violetta. Pictured is Hong Hei-Kyung, as Violetta in a Metropolitan Opera production.
Shakespeare's magical comedy concerns four young lovers and six amateur actors, who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit a forest. It has inspired some of the best classical music over hundreds of years - from such diverse composers of Henry Purcell, Felix Mendelssohn, Carl Orff, Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.
The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has captivated readers for centuries. Jules Massenet’s opera 'Don Quichotte' relates only indirectly to the great novel – in his version, the simple farm girl of the original becomes the more sophisticated Dulcinée, a flirtatious local beauty inspiring the infatuated old man's exploits.
Frequently appearing high in charts of the best 20th century novels, George Orwell's vision of future dystopia Airstrip One – formerly known as Great Britain – was turned into an opera at Covent Garden by American conductor and composer Lorin Maazel in 2005. Reviews were scathing, The Guardian declaring that it was 'both shocking and outrageous that the Royal Opera…should be putting on a new opera of such wretchedness and lack of musical worth.'
Vaughan Williams described his adaptation of the religious classic as a 'Morality' rather than an opera. Nonetheless, he intended the work to be performed on stage, rather than in a church or cathedral. His changes to the story included altering the name of the central character from 'Christian' to 'Pilgrim', so as to universalise the spiritual message.
Offenbach’s opera is a loose adaptation of Dafoe’s famous novel, owing more to British pantomime than to the book itself. Despite a positive reception by the public and press at its 1867 premiere, it wasn’t professionally performed again until 1973 at the Camden Festival.
This scandalous short novel was originally banned in France upon publication. For later editions, the author toned down some salacious details and inserted more moralizing disclaimers. It was turned into one opera by French composer Auber, another by Massenet, and 'Manon Lescaut' by Puccini. Pictured here are Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko performing in a 2007 Berlin production of Massenet's 'Manon'.
‘A plot whose essence can fit onto a postage-stamp evolves into the longest fiction in the English language,’ is how English composer Robin Holloway described Richardson’s massive novel. The composer spent years adapting it and then wrote all the music for his opera of 'Clarissa' in a fortnight in 1976. It was premiered by English National Opera in 1990.
The adventures of a high-spirited orphan boy, 'Tom Jones' was turned into a comic opera by Edward German (pictured). After a run in Manchester, the opera opened in London at the Apollo Theatre on 17 April 1907 for an initial run of 110 performances. It then largely disappeared from the professional repertory but became very popular with amateur groups.
One of the first bestsellers - and dismissed by Dr Johnson as too fashionable for its own good - 'Tristram Shandy' is the favourite novel of Michael Nyman (pictured) who has not yet finished his opera of the book. At least five excerpts have been performed publicly, and one has been released on a commercial recording.
Set in 1194, 'Ivanhoe' tells the story of one of the remaining Saxon noble families at a time when the English nobility was overwhelmingly Norman. Sir Arthur Sullivan turned it into a romantic opera which premiered at the Royal English Opera House on 31 January 1891 for a consecutive run of 155 performances, unheard of for a grand opera.
Victor Hugo began writing his famous novel largely to raise awareness of the value of Gothic architecture, which was being neglected and often destroyed. It was turned into an opera, 'Esmeralda' by Louise Bertin with Hugo himself providing the libretto. In 1883, English composer Arthur Goring Thomas also created an opera with the same title, changing Hugo's tragic ending to a happy one.
'Carmen' was inspired by a true story Mérimée heard about a 'ruffian from Málaga who had killed his mistress, who consecrated herself exclusively to the public.' Bizet's opera was first performed in 1875 and wasn’t particularly successful; he died suddenly afterwards and knew nothing of the work’s later huge popularity. Pictured is soprano Elina Garanca as Carmen starring in the 2009 Metropolitan Opera production.
Movie music legend Bernard Herrmann chose 'Wuthering Heights' as the subject of his only opera. He wrote it between 1943 and 1951, recorded it in full in 1966, but it had to wait until April 2011, the centenary of Herrmann's birth, for a complete theatrical performance. Although largely unknown, the composer's wife said it was 'perhaps the closest to his talent and heart'.
In one of literature's most famous works, Dickens spotlights London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. Arthur Benjamin adapted the novel for his first full-scale opera, which received the Festival of Britain Opera Prize. It was successful with audiences but left critics divided. One wrote it 'fails to achieve greatness because of its lack of individual invention.'
For his final opera, Janáček translated and adapted his libretto from Dostoyevsky's novel of life in a Siberian prison camp. It premiered in 1930, two years after the composer's death. The setting presents a large ensemble cast and requires a vast orchestra - including chains as a percussion instrument to evoke the sound of the prisoners.
Prokofiev began setting Tolstoy's epic in the summer of 1942, spurred on by the German invasion of the Soviet Union. To satisfy the Soviet Committee on the Arts, which demanded more patriotism and heroism, Prokofiev duly added marches and choruses. Pictured are Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Anna Netrebko at a Metropolitan Opera production of the opera.
Named in a TIME magazine poll of 125 contemporary authors as the 'greatest novel ever written', 'Anna Karenina' by Leo Tolstoy (pictured) was turned into an opera by Scottish composer Iain Hamilton, which premiered in 1981 at English National Opera. It was 'a poignantly Mahlerian treatment of Tolstoy's novel,' according to one critic. American composer David Carlson has also turned the novel into an opera, premiered in 2007.
Henry James' short novel explores the conflicts involved when a biographer in Venice seeks to pry into the intimate life of his subject. In 1987, Dominick Argento was commissioned by The Dallas Opera to produce an opera of The Aspern Papers. In it, Argento changes Aspern into a composer, not a poet and his former lover Juliana is an opera singer.
Dorian Gray lives a debauched life but never ages – while his demonic portrait deteriorates to reflect the state of his soul. Wilde's only novel caused an outrage with some reviewers saying he should be prosecuted on moral grounds. It was turned into an opera by American composer Lowell Liebermann in 1996.
Aschenbach is a great writer suffering writer's block who visits Venice and is liberated by the sight of a handsome youth. Because of agreements between Warner Brothers and the estate of Thomas Mann around the 1971 movie, Britten was advised not to see the film when it was released. His less sentimental, understated opera premiered in 1973. Pictured is Alan Oke as Aschenbach in a 2007 Bregenz festival production.
Herman Melville's tale of a naive seaman was acclaimed by British critics as a masterpiece when published in London. For his operatic version, Benjamin Britten invited another great novelist E.M. Forster to consider writing the libretto. Forster agreed and worked with Eric Crozier, a regular Britten collaborator, to provide the words for one of English opera's masterpieces. Pictured is Nathan Gunn playing Billy in the 2012 Metropolitan Opera production.
Published in 1937, this highly praised novella by John Steinbeck (pictured) tells the story of George and Lennie, who move from place to place in Depression-era California, searching for new job opportunities. American composer Carlisle Floyd turned it into an opera in 1969 which has been performed frequently within the U.S.A.