Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph

Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2014. 1088p. notes. index. ISBN 9780618054749. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780544245587. MUSIC
OrangeReviewStarSwafford (Charles Ives: A Life with Music) has produced a monumental biography of the most iconic composer in the Western classical tradition. Written in an engaging and entertaining style, the book includes much illuminating context, such as the effect on Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) of late 18th-century Aufklärung (Enlightenment). The identity of the "immortal beloved," the often difficult interactions with patrons and friends, and the fraught relationships with nephew Karl and his mother Johanna are presented in an evenhanded manner; the author is neither in awe of a romanticized "Beethoven myth" nor overly revisionist. The book includes music analysis and examples, devoting more than 25 pages to Missa solemnis (solemn mass). The nearly 100 pages of notes include much detailed discussion of Beethoven's life and music that add greatly to the work's quality. While there is no dearth of titles on Beethoven (such as Maynard Solomon's well-known Beethoven), Swafford's volume promises to become a standard biography on the composer, taking its place beside Alexander Wheelock Thayer's classic Life of Beethoven.
VERDICT 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.
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