To Music

Ketil Bjørnstad

Winner of the French Prix des Lecteurs (Readers’ prize) 2008
Longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2010

We are among music students in Oslo at the end of the 1960s. Piano student Aksel Vinding, falls head over heels in love with the one-year younger Anja Skoog, a major piano talent who will soon make her debut at the age of seventeen. For Aksel, his relationship with Anja appears to be part of his destiny. However, the enigmatic piano teacher Selma Lynge, has a great amount of influence on the young student, and Aksel feels that a catastrophe is drawing near. To Music is an important book in Bjørnstad’s literary project. He writes about an environment that has been a large part of his own life. At the same time, the novel has strong and obvious parallels to our own time, where pressures on youth can be as immense and inhuman as in the 1960’s musical milieu.

Praise for To Music:

“an enchanting tale of love and death, desire and loss, about how parents and mentors manipulate and ultimately fail the young people entrusted to them. Above all, it’s a story of music written by a master in the field. Bjornstad’s style is staccato, except when talking about music; then he’s in his element, with beautifully honed long sentences that flow and halt, soar and dip just like the classical pieces he is describing … ”
(The Independent, UK)

“… a family drama, an artist novel and a captivating portrayal of a young man’s obsession and love. I suspect that only Ketil Bjørnstad with his unique artistic experience could have written this novel, and it is a novel he just had to write sooner or later.”
(Lars Saabye Christensen, author of The Half Brother)

“Bravo Bjørnstad! Coming of age, humour, sex and musicality – told with a catching energy.” ( Adresseavisa)

”Music, love, life and death are united in the most distinguished way in Ketil Bjørnstad’s fine novel… What is so special about To Music is Bjørnstad’s brilliant language… The fineness of the many piano concerts is reflected in Bjørnstad’s tone, which left this reviewer gasping for air. To music is musical literature, it is a delicate piano concert, playing a horribly weighty and touching melody about life and death…..It is happiness, it is death. It is so terrible. So beautiful. And so delicate. It is music that can breathe life into people, but that can also beat them to death. It is love that can be so overwhelming that it can only be expressed through music. It is literature at its best. It is the novel that took my breath away.” (E-pressen)

“A piercingly beautiful and horrifying novel about music and love, death and sexuality.”

“Enough drama to last through many nights…. It is powerful, beautiful and weighty.”

“great linguistic art…Ketil Bjørnstad seduces with his pen…a totally gripping artist’s novel.” (Denmarks Radio)

Excerpts from German reviews of Kjetil Bjørnstad’s To Music:

“Bjørnstad pursues his character with psychological precision – turning what is in fact an unspectacular story into an emotionally rich novel.”
(Stern, nr. 17, 20.04.06)

“Kjetil Bjørnstad’s novel (…) is a wonderful book, filled with the music about which he writes. (…) To Music is one of the best educational novels written in recent years, a genuinely sensitive study in maturing. Despite the fact that it is set in a specific time, it nonetheless has a timeless quality. Perhaps that is what particularly touches the reader. (…) To Music is a quiet book – full of music. One might also say that it is one of the best books about music. Kjetil Bjørnstad, writer, pianist and composer, is adept at weaving into the narrative his thoughts on the music and its performers in his story. And he thereby succeeds in mixing virtuosic reality with fiction. (…) A book about the sixties – without the Beatles or the Stones. And still remarkably authentic.”
(Badische Zeitung, 20.04.06. )

“The entire work is perfectly free of clichés, almost soberly recounted. Kjetil Bjørnstad (…) has written a highly readable yet intense and reflective novel about growing up in the shadow of neurotically exaggerated parental expectations.”
(Biograph, nr. 3, 2006 )

Kjetil Bjørnstad is doubly talented as a musician and a writer. His like is not to be found in all of Europe. (…)His new book too, To Music, is a thorough novel with many themes. Fascinating reading.
(Leipziger Volkszeitung, 21.04.06)

“Bjørnstad’s tone is warm, offering scenes which move us and passages that are beautiful in all their simplicity. His language culminates in a thoughtful tale of art, love, lust and sorrow.”
(Live, Stadtmagazin Saarland, nr 4, 2006)

“The book is a sort of sequel to Villa Europa. (…) In both novels Bjørnstad comes across as a masterful, compelling storyteller.”
(Neue Luzerner Zeitung, 02.05.06)

“This writer can evoke moods like those in the paintings of Edvard Munch. (…) The Scream, Madonna, Death in the Sickroom and The Dance of Life are the basis of the text, which culminates in a variation on Schubert’s Das Tod und das Mädchen. The author has genuinely managed to capture the oppressive (and bourgeois) atmosphere in which the child genius is raised. Bjørnstad recounts this tragic story from the inside, with sympathy and feeling. It gives the text credibility.”
(Ostsee Zeitung, Wochenendejournal, 11.-12. Mars , 2006)

“A captivating novel about classical music and growing up. (…) To Music describes the search for identity, not just in the world of music. It is about understanding life. And in that particular area Bjørnstad proves to be a first-rate storyteller.”
( Westfälischer Zeitung, 26.04.06)

“… a particularly tension-filled novel about the puberty of a prodigious young pianist. The book resembles more a thriller than a biographical story.(…) wonderfully sober and compact (…) To Music is an entertaining and exciting book which really is worth reading, and which makes you want to listen to classical music again. That’s not bad.”
(Tritzdem – Gefangenenzeitung der JVA Oldenburg, nr. 33 Mai 2006)

Rights sold to

  • Language Foreign publisher
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  • DanishCicero
  • DutchSignature
  • EstonianOÜ NyNorden
  • FrenchJC Lattès
  • GermanSuhrkamp/Insel Verlag
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Additional info

  • Til musikken
  • 2004
  • Aschehoug Forlag
  • Fiction, Novel
  • 393 pages