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Jan Swafford

Beethoven is celebrated biographer and composer Jan Swafford’s fascinating celebration of one of classical music’s all-time great composers.

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Sunday Times Classical Music Book of the Year

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

Jan Swafford’s biographies of composers 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. At the time of his death he was so widely celebrated that over ten thousand people attended his funeral.

This book is a biography of Beethoven the man and musician, not the myth, and throughout, Swafford – himself a composer – 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.


Jan Swafford is a composer and writer whose music has been played by orchestras and chamber ensembles including the Symphonies of Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Harrisburg, the Dutch Radio Orchestra, and the Peabody Trio. His award-winning books include biographies of Brahms, Charles Ives, and the NY Times best-seller Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. He studied at Harvard and the Yale School…

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