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Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, New Biography by Jan Swafford

51mBQbHwtGLI’d not come across a good, thorough biography of Beethoven (at least not currently in print). It’s good to see this huge (1,100 page) book just out by Jan Swafford, whose biography of Charles Ives I found very interesting. I’ve ordered it, and I’m looking forward to dipping into it to learn more about Beethoven and his times; a fascinating man, in a pivotal period for music.

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  1. Yes! Beethoven requires a special skill to understand his complexity and genius. I once read and still own Thayer’s ‘Life of Beethoven’ written by an American about 40 years after Beethoven died.
    Another essential book about Beethoven is this gem;
    Beethoven: His Spiritual Development (Vintage Book V-100 ) by J.W.N. Sullivan
    It aligns Beethovens own spiritual struggle with his compositions, a fascinating little book it’s not a biography though.
    I’ll check this new one out…thanks Kirk.


  2. I’ll be interested on your take. Like the previous comments, I’ve read Thayer. Another recent option is Barry Çoopers bio that has been well received. It’s sitting on my shelf waiting for some dedicated time. Cooper is the editor of a recently published edition of the complete piano sonatas, which many pianists now consider to be the definitive edition. Interestingly, it’s published as a set of 35 sonatas, not just the 32 that we all think of.


  3. Hi Kirk, coming back to this article afterwards, I would be interested to know what you thought of it after you read it. Around the same time as the post I read John Suchet’s biography and was very disappointed. There was a lot about the mundanities of Beethoven’s life, his friendships and family dramas, but no real connection to the amazing music. Maybe it is too hard to write a biography which connects the life to the music but I wanted to know more about how B revolutionised so many musical forms and less about his nephew.


    • Unfortunately, it did turn out to be a slog after a while. Just like you say about the Suchet – which I haven’t read – it gets into too much detail about non-esential things.


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Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn