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Listening to survive: Classical music and conflict in the musico-literary novel

Harling-Lee, Katie (2020) 'Listening to survive: Classical music and conflict in the musico-literary novel.', Violence: An International Journal, 1 (2). pp. 371-388.


This article addresses the possibility that Western classical music might be used as a source of hope for a post-conflict future by considering a literary depiction of music and conflict resolution. As a case study, Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is identified as a “musico-literary novel,” and established within the framework of Stephen Benson’s “literary music” and Hazel Smith’s methodological development of musico-literary studies through extended interdisciplinarity. The novel features three Sarajevan citizens who hear a cellist play in the rubble-strewn streets, and their music-listening experiences motivate them to work toward a post-conflict future. To consider the potential insights and blind spots surrounding ideas about music’s potential power in this narrative, the soundscape of the novel is identified to establish the significance of sound, music, and active listening in the text; parallels are highlighted between the ending of The Cellist of Sarajevo and Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, revealing music as an active moral force; and similarities between Galloway’s novel and Craig Robertson’s “Music and conflict transformation in Bosnia” are illustrated, demonstrating how interdisciplinary analysis of a musico-literary novel can offer a valid contribution to discussions surrounding the use of music to exit violence.

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Publisher statement:This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:09 February 2021
Date of first online publication:23 October 2020
Date first made open access:09 February 2021

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