A selection of books and movies with a focus on string players and/or musicians in general. NB: not all are appropriate for all ages!


(in approximate order of reading level)

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin! (Lloyd Moss)
My friend's kids love this book, which introduces ten orchestral instruments in rhyme.

The Composer is Dead (Lemony Snicket)
In true Snicket style, with lots of wordplay, the Inspector tries to figure out how the composer came to be dead. Comes with a CD (narration/music).

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed (Karla Kuskin)
Classic! The hilarious happenings as the 105 members of the Philharmonic prepare for a concert.

The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt (Patricia Maclachlan)
An 11-year-old cellist tries to figure out Mozart, her family, and life in general (aided by a violist friend and his frogs).

Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear (Lensey Namioka)(three sequels)
The youngest and least talented member of his very musical family tries to salvage a quartet performance when he'd rather be playing baseball with the help of a friend in the opposite predicament.

The Mozart Season (Virginia Euwer Wolff)
12-year-old Allegra prepares a Mozart concerto for an upcoming competition, while trying to gain understanding into the rest of her world as well (and play a little softball while she's at it).

The Musician's Daughter (Susanne Dunlap)
Theresa's father taught her to play the viola, but not about his secret work, which she tries to take over after he is killed. Special guest appearance by Franz Josef Haydn!

Shattered (Kathi Baron)
A violin prodigy flees home after a massive act of betrayal by her father; she goes to her grandfather, who had given her her violin, only to discover that he's the source of the problem.

The New Policeman and The Last of the High Kings (Kate Thompson)
Irish teenager/fiddler J.J. Liddy sets out to find "more time" for his mum and ends up discovering much more than he expected about his family, music, and the nature of time. The sequel finds him all grown up with kids of his own...

The Rainaldi Quartet and Paganini's Ghost (Paul Adam)
Well-written mysteries with a luthier as amateur sleuth.

Marrying Mozart (Stephanie Cowell)
The four Weber sisters meet the young prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - all are musical, but who will win his heart?

The Soloist (Mark Salzman)
Not to be confused with the memoir and film of the same name (see below), Salzman's book focuses on a cello prodigy who outgrew his gifts and now seeks to pass them on to a young Korean boy he is teaching.

Vivaldi's Virgins (Barbara Quick)
An orphan in the Ospedale della Pietà seeks her origins even as she studies the violin under the guidance of the "Preto Rosso", the Red Priest, Antonio Vivaldi.

Sleeping with Schubert (Bonnie Marson)
A fairly normal Brooklyn lawyer wakes up one day and realizes she's got Franz Schubert in her head, trying to finish his Unfinished Symphony. Sounds nutty, but it's a great read.

The Spanish Bow (Andromeda Romano-Lax)
A boy, born crippled, is given a bow as a present. So begins his journey towards cellistic greatness - though clearly inspired by Casals, the storyline has no real basis in fact and is a lovely evocation of a bygone era (plus the author has the coolest name ever).

Devil's Trill (Gerald Elias)
Mystery, mayhem and murder at a violin competition! Reminds me of that old joke: How can you tell the last-stand second violinists? They're the only ones who don't have knives in their backs.

An Equal Music (Vikram Seth)
Part love story, part music story - an exploration of recording Bach's Art of the Fugue for string quartet, and of a violinist's long-ago love affair with a pianist who suddenly reappears in his life.

The Cellist of Sarajevo (Steven Galloway)
A cellist sits in a shell crater playing the Albinoni Adagio for the victims of that attack in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.

The Rosendorf Quartet (Nathan Shaham)
An exploration of not only the dynamics of a string quartet, but the political tensions of the emerging Israeli nation.

The Savior (Eugene Drucker)
A violinist is instructed to play for inmates at concentration camps near the end of World War II to see if music can bring people any hope. Drucker, like Steinhardt (below), is a quartet violinist.


Walk on the North Side (William Primrose)
The eminent Scottish violist on his own life. Currently out of print, but used copies are available (no, you may not borrow mine... it's autographed!)

My Viola and I (Lionel Tertis)
The equally eminent English violist on his life.

Lionel Tertis: The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola (John White)
A more in-depth account than the preceding.

Playing the Viola (David Dalton)
Dalton's many years with Primrose are presented for the rest of us.

Indivisible by Four (Arnold Steinhardt)
Life in the Guarneri String Quartet, one of the longest-lived ensembles on the scene, by its first violinist.

A Genius in the Family {a.k.a. Hilary and Jackie} (Hilary & Piers du Pré)
The siblings of brilliant cellist Jacqueline du Pré talk about their sister and their lives.

Musicophilia (Oliver Sacks)
Sacks is perhaps best known for The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat; here he delves into music's effects on the brain.

Temperament (Stuart Isacoff)
A lucid and fascinating discussion of different tuning systems (it helps if you have previous musical knowledge before tackling this one).


A fictionalized history of Mozart's life, both musical and personal; won 8 Academy Awards.

Immortal Beloved
The identity of Beethoven's "immortal beloved" has been debated for over a century - this is one take on it.

Music of the Heart
A violin teacher's struggles to start and maintain a music program in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

High Fidelity
I have a strange memory of performing before the opening of this film at a local theater when I was about 10 years old; it is a documentary about the Guarneri String Quartet.

The Red Violin
The 200+ year history of the eponymous instrument, involving many countries (and therefore languages - lots of subtitles) and players. Told in a flashback/quasi-Rashomon style.

Hilary and Jackie
Based on the book (see above); cellist Jacqueline du Pré died of MS in 1987, but left a legacy of passionate recordings and family strife.

The Soloist
A mentally-ill but Juilliard-trained musician is "rescued" by a journalist, who continues to try and help him after profiling him for an article.