Music and the Novel: Notes in Stories and Stories in Notes

Course details

From £1365.00

Sun 07 Jul 2019 - Sat 13 Jul 2019

Music and the Novel: Notes in Stories and Stories in Notes


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

This course provides an opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of reading and listening by discussing fiction that has a musical theme. We will look primarily at three recent music-related novels – Sarah Quigley’s The Conductor, Richard Powers’ Orfeo, and Natasha Solomon’s The Song Collector – and examine extracts from other stories with a musical theme by writers such as Thomas Mann, Vikram Seth, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, and others. In addition to considering the particular ideas of the novels, the course explores some of the music, composers and musical issues raised by the novels. Folk-song collecting, the string quartet, C20th symphony, English music, the history of recording, and the role of music in love and war will all feature.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.


Comparing two art forms, music and stories. The precision of language, the precision of music. Sarah Quigley’s The Conductor. Music in a time of war. Shostakovich, resistance and the legend of the Seventh Symphony (the ‘Leningrad’). Extracts from Julian Barnes’ novel about Shostakovich The Noise of Time and Stephen Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo.


Natasha Solomon’s The Song Collector and the history of folk song collecting in Britain. Music, childhood and prodigy. Pastoralism, English identity and the early career of Vaughan Williams. Classical music’s engagement with folk melody. Extracts from Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam and Kazuo Ishiguro Nocturnes.


Vikram Seth An Equal Music and the string quartet. The finest novel about music in English? The string quartet as musical form and group dynamic. Novels with their own soundtracks. Music and memory.


Richard Powers’ Orfeo. Fiction which is highly allusive. The history of recorded music and music technology in recent decades. The universality of available music. The myth of Orpheus. Orfeo’s musical digressions. The story of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.


Extracts from Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus – the composer as central character and the C20th reinvention of musical language. Parallels with the reinvention of narrative and the novel. Grasping narrative in music and the sense of endings.

Recommended reading

Powers, Richard. Orfeo. London: W. W. Norton, 2014.

Solomon, Natasha. The Song Collector. London: Sceptre, 2015.

Seth, Vikram. An Equal Music. London: Vintage, 2000


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1545  includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Programme fee (with single en-suite accommodation and meals): £1545.00
Programme fee (with single standard accommodation and meals): £1365.00


Dr Rikky Rooksby


is a tutor at OUDCE with a PhD in English Literature. He is a guitar teacher and composer, and author of many articles, reviews and books on English literature and popular music, including an 11-volume songwriting series that started in 2000 with the best-selling How To Write Songs On Guitar.

His Oxford Experience summer school courses include The Beatles, Popular Music and Sixties Britain and British Popular Music 1963-73. He is currently working on a book about the C20th symphony.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Wednesday 1 May 2019 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.