Beethoven by Jan Swafford

Rate: 3/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (Spoilers Abound):

Beethoven, at least in my mind, had been relegated to the rigid world of classical music. I went through a phase in high school where I listened to classical but it wasn’t from a place of appreciation, more just an attempt to breaking out of a cookie cutter mold. That said, this phase lasted a month or two at best. Always on the search for my next nonfiction read, Beethoven caught my eye when a fellow blogger mentioned how much she enjoyed this work of nonfiction covering the aforementioned composer’s life, I rushed to pick up this gargantuan book (44 hours).

Swafford does an excellent job organizing Beethoven’s life in a way that keeps the reader’s attention, while also diving heavily into the technical aspects of his musical creations. Swafford’s love of the art/science/mastery of composing and music in general is apparent throughout this read. She offered a glimpse into a beautifully complex and deliberate world that I had no clue existed. Throughout elementary school I played violin and during middle/high school I played a trumpet, however Beethoven made me feel as though I had skimmed the barest of surfaces of a much more vast and complex body of understanding.

Music aside, the man at the heart of this novel was quite eccentric, constantly ignoring social norms, while being quite oblivious to reality. Due to Beethoven being being firmly ensconced in the classical music genre, I was shocked to learn how Beethoven challenged the musical expectations of the time. He was constantly pushing boundaries and reinventing himself. I couldn’t help but admire him and be amused by his various quirks, along with the various situations his flash temper would get him into. It is truly remarkable what Beethoven was able to accomplish due to the chronic health issues and arguably most impressive the loss of his hearing half way through his storied career, with many of his most famous works coming when he was quite deaf.

While Swafford would have been remiss to not delve into the Beethoven’s music from a technical aspect, but she accomplishes this feat in a way that it doesn’t go too far over the heads of readers who are musical novices. Overall, Beethoven was a read that brought to life this legendary composer, and everyday activities in Vienna, along with Europe in general at the turn of the nineteenth century, in vivid detail.


  1. I had always heard Beethoven was a revolutionary in classical music, but I never really knew how he pushed the boundaries until I read this book. It was definitely one of my favourite reads from last year, even though it took me forever to read it. I’m glad you liked it, and enjoyed the review!

    Liked by 1 person

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