Beethoven (Hardcover)

Anguish and Triumph

By Jan Swafford

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780618054749, 1104pp.

Publication Date: August 5, 2014

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (1/4/2015)
MP3 CD (1/5/2015)
Compact Disc (1/5/2015)

List Price: 40.00*
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Jan Swafford’s biographies of Charles Ives and Johannes Brahms have established him as a revered music historian, capable of bringing his subjects vibrantly to life. His magnificent new biography of Ludwig van Beethoven peels away layers of legend to get to the living, breathing human being who composed some of the world’s most iconic music. Swafford mines sources never before used in English-language biographies to reanimate the revolutionary ferment of Enlightenment-era Bonn, where Beethoven grew up and imbibed the ideas that would shape all of his future work. Swafford then tracks his subject to Vienna, capital of European music, where Beethoven built his career in the face of critical incomprehension, crippling ill health, romantic rejection, and “fate’s hammer,” his ever-encroaching deafness. Throughout, Swafford offers insightful readings of Beethoven’s key works.

More than a decade in the making, this will be the standard Beethoven biography for years to come. 

About the Author

Jan Swafford is an award-winning composer whose music has been played around the US and abroad by ensembles including the symphony orchestras of St. Louis, Vermont, and Harrisburg, and by the Dutch Radio Orchestra. He is the author of Johannes Brahms: A Biography, which was a New York Times Notable Book, and Charles Ives: A Life with Music, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the PEN/Winship Award. He is also the author of The Vintage Guide to Classical Music. His writing and commentary on music has been featured on NPR and in Slate, the Guardian, Gramophone, and elsewhere. Swafford teaches music history, theory, and composition at the Boston Conservatory.

Praise For Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

A Christian Science Monitor Top 10 Book of the Month

"Swafford’s craftsmanship shines...The book is two books: a biography and a series of journeys through the music, a travelogue with an excitable professor. Readers will want to have a recording playing so they can match metaphors to sounds. I found myself engaged by his imagery, sometimes delighted and surprised."
–Jeremy Denk, New York Times Book Review

"Impassioned and informed...Swafford’s exuberance is infectious, prompting the reader to revisit works both famous and obscure."
The New Yorker

"[T]he stately rhythm, carefully etched detailing and oceanic sweep of this ambitious book mirror the complexity and richness of Beethoven's revolutionary Romanticism...surrender to it and it’s easy to be swept away...Swafford comes marvelously equipped to take on the enormousness of Beethoven's life and work – his heights of inspiration, depths of suffering, the roots and range of his masterworks...Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph doesn't drown in its musicology so much as achieve a buoyant balance of technical and human detail."
–Matt Damsker, USA TODAY

"Compelling...Despite the wealth of historical detail, this is no dry academic tome, but a biography full of colorful descriptions of the composer and his milieu...Comprehensive, detailed, and highly readable, this is an entertaining biography that should find favor with music lovers and history buffs."
Seattle Times

"Swafford creates the perfect blend of a historical person and musical genius...Monumental...A truly remarkable biography."
Christian Science Monitor

"Swafford’s writing on Beethoven’s music is perceptive and illuminating. But just as impressive is his sympathetic portrait of Beethoven the man. Swafford’s book, which should be placed alongside the excellent biographies by Lewis Lockwood and Maynard Solomon, does not diminish any of the composer’s flaws. Instead, it suggests that these flaws were inconsequential compared with the severity of the composer’s anguish and the achievement of his music."
Washington Post 

"Swafford has a knack for bringing in the reader wholly unschooled in the technical vernacular of classical music. That skill is in evidence in this blend of biography and musical assessment. Even if you don't know the difference between a leitmotif and a lighthouse, don't sweat it, for this is, more than anything, a saga of a man at odds with so many things: convention, social mores, himself, women, his family ... If this isn't exactly the Beethoven that Schroeder of 'Peanuts' fame worshiped, it's a more believable characterization, and, more than that, one gets a better sense of how this roiling personality produced works to roil the human soul."
Boston Globe

"An immersive, comprehensive view...The book has a biopic feel...Lively"
The New York Review of Books

"This combination of gripping biography and readable analysis of Beethoven’s compositions is a book for all Beethoven enthusiasts, full of insights and memorable vignettes, old and new."
Washington Times

"A highly rewarding read, with a lightness of touch that makes history come to life."
The Economist

"Magisterial, warm, and engaging...A triumph of scholarship and musical affinity... Jan Swafford is to be saluted."
The Independent

"Swafford traces the life and art of Beethoven in eye-opening, rational detail and gives you a more human, more fascinating portrait of Beethoven the radical evolutionary than even the Beethoven the Romantic of legend...When Swafford writes about Beethoven's raptus–the trance-like state friends remakred upon when he was most lost in his musical world–you feel as if you were there, listening to the improvisations flowing from the virtuoso's fingers...For those who cannot read music, Swafford's published excerpts can look daunting, but with a little work and a good CD collection, anyone can follow Swafford's journeys through Beethoven's journeys. The payoff is more than worth it."
–Big Think

"Magnificent...Some of the most enjoyable segments of his book are the spirited and knowledgeable readings of Beethoven’s various compositions. These passages are so passionate that they virtually propel the reader across the room to the CD collection, to play the pieces being so smartly described...A stunning tour de force, a Beethoven biography to shine for a lifetime."
–Open Letters Monthly

"Monumental...Engaging and entertaining...Beethoven aficionados and lovers of classical music will want this book, as will readers interested in biography and the artistic milieu of late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe."
Library Journal, starred review

"A thorough, affectionate, and unblinking account of the life of the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)...Due to the author’s unsurpassed research and comprehension, we stand in the presence of a genius and see all his flawed magic."
Kirkus, starred review

"In this brilliant, exhaustive story, biographer and music historian Swafford (Johannes Brahms) brings new life to Beethoven."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Coverage from NPR