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Publisher's Summary

Jan Swafford's biographies 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.

©2014 Jan Swafford (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Indeed, readers will want to refer to the book often when they listen to Beethoven. A marvelous achievement." ( Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Story

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Huge book - musical reader appreciates best

This is an exhaustive book. Not being a trained musician, I found it a little hard to follow some off the discussions of music theory. And because the author often quoted from contemporary sources certain aspects of the composer's life seems to be duplicated. I found that by printing a list of Beethoven compositions and having that available as I listened, I was able to place my favorites in context. It's hard to imagine a more complete version of a person's life from that period. A fine story well told. Had I been more musical I would have rated it much higher.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Very Detailed Biography

What did you like best about this story?

The level of details available about his daily life. Letters and manuscripts (many records kept due to conversations written down because of his deafness).

Any additional comments?

I read other reviews that complained about too much musical composition details. I thought that I would still enjoy that part but found myself eventually skipping through those parts as they could only be enjoyed by another composer. I still enjoyed the book and learned much about Beethoven's life which is what I was hoping to learn.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Enjoyable, engrossing.

Would you consider the audio edition of Beethoven to be better than the print version?

This is a wonderfully in depth examination of Beethoven's life and his times. My only complaint is the occasional mispronunciation.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Although impossible, yes.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful Biography of A Supreme Artist

Would you listen to Beethoven again? Why?

Yes. You cannot separate the music from the person. The author told the story of Beethoven and wove in the analysis of his music synchronized with his life.

What other book might you compare Beethoven to and why?

There are other masterpiece books about Beethoven, but this one gave the most expert analysis of the music.

Which scene was your favorite?

Beethoven's writing the Heiligenstadt Testament and his death bed.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

No film could do justice to such a person.

Any additional comments?

Mr. Pritchard is an experienced and excellent narrator. His narration was wonderful, except he mispronounced "Pianoforte" 100s of times.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Audio Books Can Hardly Get Any Better than This!

Would you consider the audio edition of Beethoven to be better than the print version?

extremely good , well researched content on life of Beethoven. Very well written and as well very well narrated!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Beethoven?

so many!

Have you listened to any of Michael Prichard’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no..but very much liked it. (first "American" narrator I have listened to in which I really did like the tone or style of "Accent" and narration)

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

several.

Any additional comments?

highly recommend!

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A solid musical biography

The writer successfully ties biographical events in well with Beethoven’s creative output. For musicians, the musical analysis only goes skin deep. For the layman, it is probably too complex unless you have some musical background already. I’d suggest listening to the pieces while going through each chapter, otherwise, much of the analysis would be pointless. The performance of this reader was effective but a bit monotonous after the 20th hour of his 1950’s anchorman delivery. Some of his pronunciation is odd as well (how did no one correct “pianoforte”?). Even still, it was a fun and informative listen.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Informative look at the life of a remarkable man whose fate it was to enlarge the scope of musical expression.

I really loved Swafford's portrait of Brahms, hence the reason I bought this book. Having read Thayer's tome on Beethoven since the age of 12, I was hungry for new insights into the life of Beethoven.
I was delighted to read newer information about Beethoven the man, and felt gratified as Mr. Stafford dispelled all of the silly gossip and rumors (especially the movie "Immortal Beloved) surrounding his loves and his death.
I was a little disappointed when Mr. Stafford would analyse various works throughout the composer's life; although he does point out the turning points in Beethoven's composition styles, his analysis become largely subjective where he could have stuck to the point.
I don't know if it is a Kindle problem, but many of the paintings of Beethoven were not included. Also, links to YouTube performances of his sited compositions would have been a blessing. My Kindle edition was also missing the music scores of the pieces being analysed, with notations regarding the specific uses of harmony and rhythm being described by Swafford.
Overall, I do recommend this work. It is missing some of the objective, detailed analysis that is present in Swafford's Brahms biography, but it does clarify Beethoven's idiosyncratic personality, and the events that changed his life and music. I was able to derive that Beethoven, from an early age, was bent on enlarging the scope of musical expression, and through hard work and self-discipline, he achieved his goal! Lucky for us!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Worth the Time

I’m not knowledgeable about music, but this book keep me coming back. Interesting, engaging and informative. It was superbly performed.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Must read for anyone interested in Beethoven

An in depth look at the life and works of Beethoven, particularly good for the latter. Narrator is clear and the conveys the tone of the author well.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

If you aren't a musician, do not bother.

Any additional comments?

This is a great book if you are familiar with the terms, practice and framework that goes into composing classical music. I am not. The book is too opaque for someone w/out any instruction in composition. The storyline of Beethoven's history is there, but it's hard to follow.