Do classical musicians really understand our own history? with Jan Swafford
Jan Swafford is an author and composer. His musical works range from orchestral and chamber to film and theater music, including four pieces for orchestra, Midsummer Variations for piano quintet, They That Mourn for piano trio, and They Who Hunger for piano quartet. His music has been played around the U.S. and abroad by ensembles including the symphonies of Indianapolis, St. Louis, Harrisburg, Springfield, Jacksonville, Chattanooga, and the Dutch Radio. His degrees are from Harvard and the Yale School of Music. In 1989 he was a Mellon Faculty Fellow at Harvard. In 2018 he was awarded an honorary Harvard Phi Beta Kappa. In 2012 his online music journalism won a Deems Taylor Award.
As a music journalist and scholar, Swafford has written for Slate, The Guardian, Gramophone, and 19th Century Music among others. He is a longtime program note writer for the Boston Symphony, and has written program and liner notes for the symphonies of Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Detroit, and San Francisco, for Chamber Music at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, and Deutsche Grammophon. Recently he has appeared in television documentaries in Germany and England. His books include the biographies Charles Ives: A Life with Music (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award); Johannes Brahms: A Biography; and Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. All these books were Critics’ Choices in the New York Times. HIs biography on Mozart was just published in December of 2020. His books have been widely translated in Europe and China.
The Question of the Week is, "Do classical musicians really understand our own history?" Jan and I discuss the habit classical musicians have of deifying composers, assumptions and narratives he needed to unlearn, how the teaching of the history of Western classical music has changed, how his research and writing of composers has informed his own composition process, and why he believes talent does exist.