Jan Swafford, one of our best music biographers, is first and foremost a composer. His compositional output, while not large, is rich in spirit. Listen to his Piano Quartet and Piano Trio (both available on a single disc) for starters. It is this compositional persona that so informs his biographies. Not only does his empathy for the composer come through, but so does his understanding of the compositional process, its inner workings. Whether in his definitive biography of Ives, his meditation on Brahms or in this most recent offering, Swafford gets to the core of the man and deep inside the music.
His book, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, ten years in the making, is no exception. The book is really two books in one; the life and times of Mr. Beethoven, and gentle analyses of a number of his most seminal pieces. Swafford is masterful in both spheres.