ABOUT

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

Long Biography

ORCHESTRA & WIND ENSEMBLE

FROM THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAIN (2001), for string orchestra.
Commissioned and premiered by the Chamber Orchestra of Tennessee, Chattanooga, September 2001. EXCERPT

ADIRONDACK INTERLUDE (2001), for orchestra.
Commissioned and premiered by the Skidmore College Orchestra, April 2002.

LATE AUGUST: Prelude for Chamber Orchestra on Southern Themes (1992). Full orchestra version, 1998.
Premiered by the Minneapolis Chamber Symphony, March 1992. Published by Peer.

CHAMBER SINFONIETTA (1988), for chamber orchestra.
Written for and premiered by Boston's Alea III, March 1988. Published by Peer.
Won Massachusetts Artists Council Grant 1989.

AFTER SPRING RAIN (1982), for orchestra.
Commissioned and premiered by the Chattanooga Symphony 1982. Published by Peer.
Won Indiana State University Composition Contest 1983. EXCERPT

LANDSCAPE WITH TRAVELER (1980), for orchestra.
Premiered in a public reading by the American Composers Orchestra 1988.
Published by Peer.

POINT: GENESIS: MATRIX: MUSIC FROM THE MOUNTAIN (1969-72), for wind ensemble.
First movement premiered by the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble 2012.

PASSAGE (1975), for strings, piccolo, and percussion.
Premiered by the St. Louis Symphony 1976.
Chosen for International Gaudeamus Festival 1977.

CHAMBER MUSIC

THEY THAT MOURN (2002), for piano trio.
In memoriam 9/11. Commissioned by Market Square Concerts for their 25th Anniversary celebration. Premiered by the Peabody Trio in Harrisburg, PA, April 2002. Published by Peer. Recorded on CRI. EXCERPT

REQUIEM IN WINTER (1991), for string trio or string sextet.
Written on an NEA Grant. Premiered by the Scott Chamber Players, Indianapolis, Nov. 1992. Published by Peer.

CAPRICES (1989), for piano and three winds.
Commissioned by the Sylmar Chamber Ensemble of Minneapolis. Premiered in Minneapolis, Feb. 1989.

THEY WHO HUNGER (1989), for piano quartet.
A Chamber Music America commission for the Scott Chamber Players. Premiered by the Scott Chamber Players in Indianapolis 1989. Published by Peer. Recorded on CRI.

MIDSUMMER VARIATIONS (1985; second version 1987), for piano quintet.
Commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Artists Ensemble 1985. Published by Peer. Won Massachusetts Artists Council Grant 1989. EXCERPT

LABYRINTHS (1981), for violin and cello.
Premiered at Yale 1982. Won New England Composers Competition 1984.

OUT OF THE SILENCE (1979), for winds and strings.
Premiered in New York by Musical Elements 1979.

FLEURS (1978), for five flutists.
Commissioned and premiered by the St.Louis Flute Club 1979.

PEAL (1976), for six trumpets.
Premiered at Yale 1977. Chosen for the International Gaudeamus Festival (Holland) 1978. EXCERPT

THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS #3 (1974), for five winds.
Premiered at Yale 1974.

THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS #2 (1971), for flute and piccolo trumpet.
Premiered at New England Conservatory 1971. Published by Meridian.

STRING QUARTET (1968).
Premiered at Yale 1976.

KEYBOARD AND SOLO INSTRUMENT

IN TIME OF WAR (2007), for cello and piano.
Written for and premiered by Emanuel Feldman and George Lopez, New England Conservatory, May 2007. EXCERPT

IN TIME OF FEAR (1984), for flute and harpsichord.
Premiered in Deerfield 1984.

SOLO INSTRUMENT

THE SILENCE AT YUMA POINT (2011), for solo cello. Written for and premiered by Rhonda Rider, February 2011.

A CELEBRATION WITH CATHY (2007), for solo viola.
Premiered by Ronald Gorevic, Smith College, November 2007.

MUSIC LIKE STEEL AND LIKE FIRE (1983), for solo piano.
Premiered Smith College 1985. Won Delius Competition'89.

THEATER AND VOCAL MUSIC

IPHIGENIA (1993), for women's choir and ten instruments.
(Concert version with narrator.) Original theater version commissioned by the University of Tennessee. Premiered in Chattanooga, Nov. 1993.

SHORE LINES (1982), for soprano and flute.
Premiered in Deerfield 1983. Published by Meridian. Performed at National Flute Conventions 94 95. Won a National Flute Association Award for newly published work, 1995. EXCERPT

THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN (1977), for voices and chamber ensemble.
Premiered at the Yale School of Drama 1977.

MIXED MEDIA

MAGUS (1977), for cello and tape.
Premiered by Gerhard Pawlica at Boston University 1978. EXCERPT

MUSIC REVIEWS

Swafford's piece is a private outpouring scaled to a deeply felt, intimately scored trio that opens with a piano rippling high above a sighing cello lamentation. Sweeping in its momentum, direct in its expression, the work passes through the full gamut of moods and includes an exuberant dance section that seems to channel the energy of the trios of Ravel or Shostakovich before a mournful tone is reestablished at the close. "I wanted an elegy to reflect the tumult of feeling with which mourning runs its long course," he wrote in an explanatory note, "a course in the direction, sometimes, of reclaiming hope and joy."

—Jeremy Eichler in The Boston Globe, April 2011

While After Spring Rain builds up some of its continuity with repeated orchestral chords in a rather John Adams-ish way…nothing could be further from Adams than the wandering flute duet with which After Spring Rain opens…Swafford owes nothing to Adams, nor to minimalism. Nor, apparently, to twelve-tone music…The music gives no sense of having backpedaled from modernism out of populist guilt, nor is there any vestige of pitch-set thinking, nor any hint of serialist fragmentation. His music unremittingly lyrical and linear…He has not been drawn into the aesthetic squabbles of twentiety-century music. His style…is entirely his own.

—Kyle Gann in a feature article for Chamber Music, May 2005

The concert really got down to business with Jan Swafford's highly evocative After Spring Rain played by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the Contemporary Music Festival. The exquisitely scored work is rich in mood and atmosphere, spare and transparent in sound and lyrical in effect.

—Charles Staff in The Indianapolis News, March 1993

The aftermath of Jan Swafford's After Spring Rain was a respectful appreciation and even a little awe. It's a gorgeous work, rich in textures and colors and emotional tension….True to his own words, his music "sounds only like itself."

—Lucy Miller in The Pennsylvania Beacon, March 1984

Put together skillfully and full of sophisticated demands on the musicians, They Who Hunger nonetheless gets down to street level in its range of expression. Through the score's use of grating dissonance to convey anger and turmoil is restrained, it leaves and breathes the energy and pathos of common lives…In its main thematic material and the frequency of lively rhythmic patterns recalling country fiddling and banjo music, the music stays in touch with demotic roots from first to last. It shuns both imitation folk music and more literal borrowings from popular kinds of music…The 20-minute work seems a model of economy without getting stingy about it…Instead it is richly detailed, marked with almost secretive flourishes.

—Jay Harvey in The Indianapolis Star, October 1989

The provocation for Jan Swafford's piano quartet They Who Hunger was the plight of the homeless…Though the subject matter is not discernible in any overt way, the piece has a world-weariness that is no doubt expressive of the composer's feeling. Otherwise, the music is jaunty with motoric rhythms, lyrical and bluesy.

—Anthony Tommasini in The Boston Globe, November 1990

While compassion may have motivated him, Swafford in They Who Hunger has composed a purely musical work…There is no text, no program…The work opens with an eloquent, poignant violin theme that is quickly taken up and varied…There are many more ideas that take place with considerable speed and fluency. Among the most attractive features are Swafford's ability to create unusual and haunting sonic combinations and colors, such as the section in which there are bowed tremolos in the cello against a violin and viola melody and fragments of filigree in the piano.

—Ellen Pfeifer in The Boston Herald, November 1990

While any of the three winners on this League of Composers/ISCM program could well have been written 15 years ago, they wouldn't necessarily have won…"In order to say what I wanted to say," the composer writes, in Labyrinths "I had to reinstate a number of things that had largely vanished from new music by the last decade—an ebb and flow of harmonic tension, pulsed rhythms, lucid counterpoint, lyric melody and the like." The result, in this piece, is a fresh, canny, terse use of accessible materials, nothing bogus or fogeyish about it.

—Richard Buell in The Boston Globe, March 1985

Let me report that Jan Swafford's Midsummer Variations stands a good chance of long-term survival…I like it because at all points it struck me as solidly built, like a piece of furniture. The fast section is particularly vivacious, and the ending both spacious and handsome.

—Roy M. Close in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, November 1985

Swafford's 1985 Midsummer Variations…frolics in a meadow of a century's breadth. One detects..touches of dissonance, jovially vulgar syncopation, stylized hoedown romps, but most of all, a richly Romantic conception at home in an atomized time…The 1989 They Who Hunger stands in introspective contrast as a politicized utterance…Swafford aptly quotes Joseph Brodsky: "The artist's main responsibility to society is to write well." And Swafford does write well—very well indeed…The work's harmonies are at once lush and elegiac, and despite the music's sober purpose, patches of something like gaiety spice…The music surges with a kind of luminous viscosity I find both attractive and touching

—Mike Silverton in Fanfare, February 1994

As this new CRI release shows, Swafford writes superbly in the new romantic manner. His Midsummer Variations begins with a dark angry gurgle and then a piercing screech in the strings. The listener wonders: Is this going to be a 60's-style noisy, athematic, "sonoristic" exploration of colors and effects? No, it isn't. Not two minutes have passed before Swafford shows…an opulent, faintly-exotic melody…Later variations take the tune through a minimalist barn dance…and eventually to its apotheosis in a slow, meditative chorale…In They Who Hunger Swafford's inspiration is the tragedy of "the many too many." Its emotional world is more wide-ranging and intense, including both exuberance and anger as well as elegiac resignation; occasional echoes of "the blues" fit smoothly into Swafford's idiom…The most immediate appear of this excellently performed and recorded disc is in Jan Swafford's beautiful answer to what comes after Modernism.

—Lehman in American Record Guide , November 1993

Jan Swafford, Michael Tilson Thomas, and James Sinclair during a recording of Ives's Fourth in Chicago.

PUBLICATIONS

BOOKS

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014.
Johannes Brahms: a Biography
Knopf (U.S.) 1997, Macmillan (UK) 1998. BUY
Charles Ives: A Life With Music
W. W. Norton, 1996. BUY
The Vintage Guide to Classical Music
Vintage (U.S.), Macmillan (UK), 1993; 2nd ed. 2001. BUY

Jan Swafford
Jan with Perry Scott in Indianapolis.

PUBLICATION REVIEWS

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

In Swafford, Ives got the biographer he deserves, Thoughtful, witty, instructive, this is one of the best biographies in recent memory, as warm and strangely inspiring as the man and the music it describes.

—Malcom Jones Jr. in Newsweek, September, 1996

For Johannes Brahms: A Biography

The definitive work on Brahms, one of the monumental biographies in the entire musical library.

The Weekly Standard

For The Vintage Guide to Classical Music

I can think of no more entertaining of well-priced instrument of propaganda for the Serious to lay on a recalcitrant near-&-dear with intent to develop...a glimmer of interest in that which consumes you and me….I'll be thumbing through this for edification and kicks long after I've handed in my review.

Fanfare

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

Though Mr. Swafford is no debunker, he stops well short of the Ives idolatry and ideological camp following that weaken older studies…And yet there is never a doubt about which side of the Ivesian divide he stands on. He is one of those informed enthusiasts whose fervor can be contagious.

—Donal Henahan in The New York Times, August, 1996

For Johannes Brahms: A Biography

A meticulous portrait…Swafford has thoroughly mined the existing literature, both scholarly and popular, and has managed to weave it into his narrative in a seamless fashion…At times the writing unfolds with remarkable lyricism and sweep.

Los Angeles Times

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

In many ways, the book does resemble a work of Ives. It is sprawling, rich with fascinating details, quirky, opinionated, and very appealing. The opening paragraph consists of one 203-word sentence that paints a colorful, Romantic portrait of the Ives homestead…in a manner that will remind readers of Ives's own tonal landscapes.

—Larry A. Lipkis in Library Journal, August, 1996

For Johannes Brahms: A Biography

Jan Swafford's intelligent, gracefully written biography…offers perhaps the richest and most integrated portrait we've yet had of Brahms as man and artist.

The Hartford Courant

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

Jan Swafford's Charles Ives goes a long way toward dispelling or clarifying many of the most prominent myths surrounding the life and music of perhaps American's greatest composer….Swafford's biography presents us with the most complete picture yet of this fascinating and often contradictory man and his music.

—Kenneth Singleton in The Washington Post, July, 1996

For Johannes Brahms: A Biography

Swafford's analysis of Brahms's performing career as pianist and conductor is especially fascinating.

The New York Times

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

A sensitive, specific, gracefully worded, and remarkably clearheaded book that is both an engrossing biography of a craggy, idiosyncratic New England "character" and a detailed examination of the work he left behind.

Washington Post Book World, Editor's Choice

For Johannes Brahms: A Biography

The author of the much-acclaimed biography Charles Ives: A Life with Music, Swafford has produced yet another masterpiece. This voluminous work combines formidable scholarship with an engaging, can't-put-it-down writing style.

Library Journal

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

An extraordinary story, and Mr. Swafford tells it brilliantly…A rich portrait of a great, lovable man…This is much more than a narrowly musical biography: it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in the history of the past century.

The Economist Review

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

Swafford's is a thoughtful and sympathetic telling of Ives's life…thoroughly researched and fun to read…what makes this book so valuable is Swafford's skill in weaving the strands of all these areas of knowledge into a cohesive fabric. It is as close as we may come for quite some time to a complete Ives.

—Josiah Fisk in The Hudson Review

For Charles Ives: A Life with Music

Swafford has written a scrupulously detailed and unfailingly enthusiastic biography of the great Connecticut composer, whom he sees not only as the natural product of turn-of-the-century Progressivism but as a musician "invaded by the future."

The New Yorker

OTHER ESSAYS—

An introduction to Charles Ives written for Peermusic.
An essay on 20th-21st century American music written for the summer Aspen Music Festival.
"Ludwig Rules" An extensive guide for analyzing Beethoven.

ARTICLES ONLINE AND IN PRINT

Slate Music columnist 2002—

The Most Beautiful Melody in the World, 2013.
Being Brahms, 2012.
Art That Grew On You, 2012.
Learning to Love Mozart, 2012.
Hallelujah for Leonard Cohen, 2012.
Life in the Colonies, 2011.
Cleaning Out Ives' Closet, 2011.
A Grand Tour of Contemporary Music, 2011.
The Elusive Maestro, 2011.
The Guardian
(London)
Composers and Zeitgeists, 2004.
Richard and Cosima Wagner, 2004.
Ives and his Symphonies, 2003.
Paint me a sound, 2003
Beethoven the Pianist, 2003.
Brahms in Love, 2003.
Once upon a time in America, 2003.
Inventing America, 2003.
19th Century Music Did the Young Brahms Play in Waterfront Bars? 2001.
American Music The Courtship of Charles and Harmony Ives, 1997.
Boston Symphony/Tanglewood Program Program notes on Beethoven, Brahms, Ives, et al 1998—

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony
Ives' Ragtime Dances
Chicago Symphony Program Program notes on Brahms and Dvořák, 1998-9.
San Francisco Symphony Program The War of the Romantics, 2001.
Brahms and the Great Tradition, 2003.
Cleveland Orchestra Program Brahms Concertos.
Toronto Symphony Scripts for Brahms educational presentations, 2010-11.
Carnegie Hall Programs Program notes on Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, 2006-7.
Gramophone Michael Tilson Thomas Records Ives (cover), 1989.
The Independent (London) Brahms and His Rivals, 1998.
Symphony Ives Today, 2013.
Tales of a Tanglewood Summer (cover), 1982.
Editing Charles Ives, 1988.
Opera Magazine Reviews of Debussy and Bernstein performances, 2005.
Sony Classical Recordings Liner notes for Millennium Series composers, 1999.
Liner notes for Emanuel Ax/BSO Brahms 2nd Concerto, 1999.
Naxos Recordings Liner notes for Charles Ives series, 2002—
BMG/RCA Red Seal Liner notes for Tilson Thomas Ives recording, 2001.
Peer-Southern Concert Music Charles Ives Brochure, 1998.
Musical America/Opus Ives's Fourth Symphony, 1988.
Yankee Magazine New England Eccentrics, 1983.
Route 2 Memories, 1998.
Blanche Moyse, Bach Festival, 1982.
Newsweek Japan & International Violin Prodigy Midori, 1987.
New England Monthly Summer Music in New England (cover), 1986.
Charles Ives, 1986.
The Vermont Symphony, 1987
The Portland String Quartet, 1985.
Violinmaker Marten Cornelissen, 1985.
New Conductors in New England, 1987.
Music Critic 1985-90.

AWARDS

SELECTED MUSICAL HONORS

Composer in Residence of Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, Pa., 1999-2002.
National Flute Association Prize for newly‑published flute music, 1995.
National Endowment for the Arts Composer Grant, 1991.
Massachusetts Artists Foundation Composer Fellowships, 1983 and 1989 (Finalist, 1988).
Grand Prize Co‑winner, Delius Composition Contest, 1989.
New England Composers Competition winner, 1984.
Indiana State University Composition Contest winner, 1983.
Rockefeller Grant and Meet the Composer Grants, 1982.
Vermont Council on the Arts Grant, 1979.
Rome Prize Alternate, 1978
Tanglewood Fellowship, 1977.
Works chosen for the International Gaudeamus Festival in Holland, 1977 and 1978.
Five MacDowell and five Yaddo Fellowships 1978‑83.
Leonard Bernstein Scholarship at Harvard, 1964-8.

WRITING HONORS

Deems Taylor Award for online music writing, 2012.
Honors for Charles Ives: A Life with Music—

  • 1997 PEN/Winship Award, book of the year by a regional author or on a regional subject.
  • Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography.
  • Named a 1996 “Outstanding Academic Book” in Choice: Reviews for Academic Libraries.
  • Named a 1996 Notable Book in the New York Times Book Review.
  • Nominated for Lowens Prize as best book on American Music, by the Sonneck Society.
  • Finalist for the 1997 Music Journalism Awards.

Honors for Johannes Brahms: A Biography—

  • Named a 1998 Notable Book in the NY Times Book Review; a Critic’s Choice, 2000.
  • A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 1997.
  • A Library Journal Best Book of 1997.
  • A 1997 Book of the Month Club alternate selection.
  • A 1997 History Book Club selection.

Fulbright Fellowship to Vienna 1995.
NEH Fellowship (with Daria Sommers): Grant toward Ives television documentary 1991.
Harvard University Mellon Faculty Fellowship 1988-89.
Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant 1988.
Sinfonia Foundation Grant 1988.

EDUCATION

Tanglewood Music Center 1977, composition with Betsy Jolas.
Yale School of Music 1974‑77.
  • DMA in Composition, 1982 (MMA 1977).
  • Composition with Jacob Druckman and David Mott.
  • Conducting with Otto Werner‑Mueller (instrumental) and John Bailey (choral).
  • Contemporary Pitch Relations and Electronic Music with Robert Morris.
Harvard College 1964‑68.
  • B.A. magna cum laude in Music, 1968.
  • Composition with Earl Kim, orchestration with Frederick Prausnitz.

TEACHING

The Boston Conservatory: Professor of Composition, Theory, and Music History 2004—.
The University of Arizona: Visiting Assistant Professor of Theory and Musicology, spring 2002-3.
Tufts University: Writing Lecturer 1989—.
Harvard College: Mellon Faculty Fellow, taught seminar on American Music 1988-9.
Hampshire College: Visiting Assistant Prof. of Music, Director of Electronic Studio 1979‑81.
Amherst College: Visiting Assistant Prof. of Music 1980‑81.
Boston University: Assistant Prof. of Theory and Composition 1977‑78.

Jan with Max Hobart and the Boston Civic Symphony.

Yuma Point, Grand Canyon.

CONTACT

Peermusic Classical
250 W. 57th St., Suite 820
New York, NY 10107
Tel: (212) 265-3910 ext. 17
Fax: (212) 489-2465
E-mail: peerclassical@peermusic.com

Meridian Publishing
(913) 956-7270
E-mail: info@jangippo.com