Sunday, 22 January 2017


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I have finally finished reading composer/writer Jan Swafford's massive tome of a biography on Ludwig van Beethoven (at 1077 pages this was no quick or easy feat!)

This 2014 title published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt could stand toe-to-toe with Otto Jahn/Hermann Abert's scholarly biographical account of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in terms of minutiae and intricate attention to detail regarding the lives and times of two of the classical era's foremost masters of the musical arts.

I award "Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph" 5/5 stars.




"A meticulously researched and up-to-date account of the life and times of Herr Beethoven. So often, when reading about Ludwig, precedence is given to the composer's struggles with his temperament - a likely by-product of the onset of auditory paracusia experienced by Beethoven whilst still in his productive years - and, equally as often, too much emphasis is placed on the contrast between this inner turmoil and the (oddly) productive aftermath thrust upon the composer as he and his fans/dissenters dealt with his complete loss of hearing later in life.

Don't let the title of Swafford's latest opus fool you: the "Anguish" of which this scholarly biographer regales begins with the subject's birth, ushering the reader through pubescence, adulthood and final repose - detailing not only this most troublesome period of Beethoven's life, but also of the many "triumphs" and "anguishes" experienced within the composers personal and professional spheres - and of the hopes, dreams, successes and failings of the society in which Beethoven lived: this 'background' information reads like a discourse on 18th century social triumph and unrest, and is as thrilling as Beethoven's life itself.

Part biography, part history/political science, and part musical dissection, this biographical tome will undoubtedly serve as the definitive Beethoven biography for years to come."

Enjoy below Herr Beethoven's setting of Kyrie, from his Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123 under the baton of maestro Bernstein:

For more music-related book reviews, check out Reviews by Rose here on Unraveling Musical Myths, or, for these and unrelated/semi-related subject matter, visit my profile on Goodreads.


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