Jan Swafford

Guest author and lecturer

Jan Swafford

Jan Swafford’s music has been played around the country and abroad by ensembles including the symphonies of St. Louis, Indianapolis, and the Dutch Radio; Boston’s new-music groups Musica Viva, Collage, and Dinosaur Annex; and chamber ensembles including the Peabody Trio, the Chamber Orchestra of Tennessee, and the Scott Chamber Players of Indianapolis.

Over the years his music has evolved steadily, but in all its avatars his work is forthrightly expressive, individual in voice, and steadily concerned with the lucidity of texture and form. Beneath the surface, there are contributions from world music, especially Indian and Balinese, and from jazz and blues. The titles of his works—including Landscape with Traveler, From the Shadow of the Mountain, and The Silence at Yuma Point—reveal a steady inspiration from nature. The composer views his work as a kind of classicism: a concern with clarity and directness, pieces that seem familiar though they are new, that aspire to sound like they wrote themselves.

Also a well-known writer on music, Mr. Swafford is author of biographies of Ives, Brahms, and Beethoven. His journalism appears regularly in Slate. He is a long-time program writer and pre-concert lecturer for the Boston Symphony and has written program notes and essays for the orchestras of Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto.

“Swafford has a knack for bringing in the reader wholly unschooled in the technical vernacular of classical music. That skill is in evidence in this blend of biography and musical assessment. Even if you don’t know the difference between a leitmotif and a lighthouse, don’t sweat it, for this is, more than anything, a saga of a man at odds with so many things: convention, social mores, himself, women, his family … If this isn’t exactly the Beethoven that Schroeder of ‘Peanuts’ fame worshiped, it’s a more believable characterization, and, more than that, one gets a better sense of how this roiling personality produced works to roil the human soul.”
–Boston Globe on Swafford’s book Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph